Let’s Play Football

Ruth HartleyApartheid, Climate change, Colonialism, Conflict, Displacement, Home, Human rights, Justice, Migration, Politics, Power, Race, Refugee, War8 Comments

The wrong tweet?

Gary Lineker made an error in the tweet that had him cancelled from hosting Match of the Day on the BBC. Delivering her policy statement in the House of Commons, Home Secretary Suella Braverman declared that Britain was being ‘invaded by a huge influx of refugees.’ – there are a hundred million who want to come to Britain – and there are ‘potentially billions of people displaced by war and climate change who – she implies might turn up on our shores.’ In response, Lineker tweeted “There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s . . . ”  

The outcry

There was an outcry from Braverman, the Tories, the BBC and some of the press saying that Lineker should not have mentioned Germany and the Holocaust. There’s some truth in that.  What Lineker ought to have tweeted is this –  “There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. “This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by the British Black Shirts led by Sir Oswald Mosley when the Cable Street Battle took place in London’s East End . . . .”

Oswald Mosley

Gary Lineker didn’t need to bring in German fascism. He could have stuck to British Fascism in the 1930s. The dog-whistle tactics of Braverman now are as fascist as those used by Oswald Mosley. This is a home-grown British strategy used by governments now and previously. The Tory government is stirring up hatred of the smallest, most defenceless and most vulnerable group in Britain in an attempt to win votes for themselves in the next elections. There is nothing original in this at all. It’s common for people seeking power to attack the defenceless by labelling them as a danger like ‘cockroaches’. It happens everywhere but if it wins in Britain our democracy dies. This is what I grew up with in Rhodesia when Ian Smith told white people that he was protecting their daughters from intermarriage with Africans by making a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. This is what I heard from the apartheid government in South Africa when I was at university. Verword was saving us whites from the communists who could so easily corrupt disenfranchised Africans.


Britain is not in danger from a mixed bag of powerless, poverty-stricken refugees even if they come in large numbers and are allowed to stay. The Tories, however, are in danger of losing the next election and their misjudged policy to recruit voters by making the British afraid is both shameful and disgusting and makes Britain look pathetic. It also is damaging to Sunak, Braverman and others who are, after all, a first-born generation of immigrants to Britain. Rich, they may be – an elite group they may be – but they do look nasty and unlikeable when they stomp on refugees. They make Britain look racist to other nations who notice that Ukrainian refugees are more welcome than those from Afghanistan. Here is a link to government figures for asylum seekers. It doesn’t deserve this amount of vote-seeking fuss as the problem could be dealt with if the Home Office was more efficient.

Go Gary Lineker

So ‘Hooray for Gary Lineker!’ and for all those other footballers and commentators who play the game that the ‘hard-working men and women’ of Britain love. Football is a universal sport and its teams are made up of players whose origins are diverse and worldwide. Suella and Rishi are from an elite and apparently fail to understand that the British rather like the idea of fair play. When Gary Lineker tweeted he wasn’t expressing a feeling that was only personal to him. He understands his audience and their heroes. Footballers have fought to end racism in football – they have to end it to get good players.  The BBC don’t understand impartiality because they’ve slid rightwards into Toryland to such a degree that they no longer ask demanding questions of politicians. They don’t balance arguments – they give too much voice to extreme right-wing views and claim that’s impartiality. It is not because it’s not the same as reasoned fairness. Making Lineker stand down is not just or right.

Fair play

The British like their sports of rugby and football. In the African colonies, however, these sports were divided. The colonisers played rugby and the colonised played football. As boarding school girls, we had to put on our Sunday uniform and watch the boys play rugby. We sat on rickety wooden stands while the cold winter wind blew up our skirts and froze the bare skin between our stockings and suspenders. In the townships and villages, on rough fields and empty car parks, African children played soccer with balls made out of rolled-up plastic. Football, I was told at school, was played by Portuguese and Scottish workers and not Englishmen, but two of my friends were Scottish and another’s step-dad was Portuguese. My boyfriend played football in the village with his farm workers and when I came to London I lived a street away from the Arsenal. Football is the game that has united people of all nations, countries, and beliefs and brought us together to share a sporting event. Football is a great game!

8 Comments on “Let’s Play Football”

  1. Anne Gill

    I have been following this saga with interest. Must admit I did not think of Mosley but it is a good point. The thing to understand about the Nazi’s is they did not start with camps and war they started with ‘othering’ their victims and ensuring that when the violence started there would not be too much outcry about those that they had already dehumanised. There was a fight back of course but the majority who had suffered from poverty, hunger and fear since the end of the first world war were on the whole in favour of a strong leader who would make everything better. We could be at the start of this process, if so we need to stop now before we find we are so far along the path we become complicit and have to collaborate in order to survive.

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Hi Anne,
      I confess that sometimes I do worry that the process of ‘othering’ people is one way some governments plan to cope with the problems of climate change. To an extent, part of Brexit’s separation from Europe is a way of detaching from any need to help those other most affected nations. The numbers of migrants and the relative costs of acting responsibly on their behalf are small. It’s a distraction technique to allow people to put the blame for their hard circumstances onto ‘others’. We have to keep speaking out. There also are too many incidents of ‘othering’ women that go along with the fears that are stirred up in these kinds of ways.

  2. Pam Shurmer-Smith

    Thanks, Ruth for a really useful and well argued piece. Useful to think about the way that racism permeated the society we grew up in – something that makes us especially wary of “of course” assumptions.

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Thank you Pam,
      I wonder sometimes about the sense and safety of writing political articles in my blogs – but then – my books are political too and though I don’t have a ‘party line’ I do feel a commitment to free speech and human rights.

  3. Anna Chamcham

    Thank you so much Ruth for your interesting and illuminating writing about free speech and the Government’s shameful policy towards refugees – I have just heard Lineker will return to Match of the Day but we wait to hear the fate of asylum seekers attempting to come to the UK. Currently there are no safe routes except for Ukrainians, Hong Kong residents and a very small number of Syrian families and (last year) only 20 Afghanis. The only route for genuine asylum seekers is the treacherous channel crossing, even for unaccompanied children (over 5000 last year) which leaves them more tramatised after all they have been through in their months or years of crossing countries to get here having escaped war or persecution. Sadly much of the public have turned against them following the ramping up of the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ with Rwanda and now the ‘invasion’ by small boats which is trumpeted in so much of the media. Let’s hope that Human Rights will not become Human Wrongs.

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Hi Anna, It’s lovely to hear from you and I’m happy that you liked my post. I think that fears of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, are being used to drive voters into mutually hostile camps to secure votes in the next election while the causes of this particular crisis, climate change and wars are far more serious than the relatively small numbers of people crossing the channel in boats. It is deflecting attention away from the important problems we need to deal with. Efficient and quick treatment of refugees would cost much less and most would make useful citizens. I worry like you that the wrong treatment of refugees weakens and damages the British people and aggravates the situation by muddling and confusion. The questions are what can we do and what must be done?

  4. Jenny

    Hi Ruth this is Jenny ex Baldwin. (Zambia) My daughter Claire posted on Facebook an article by Michael Rosen about the pertinence of Lineker’s remark in the context of Suella Braverman’s Ruwanda policy. I wonder if you saw it. I don’t know how to transpose it onto your blog. Best wishes

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