Back of the Net!

Is this the beginning of the long-awaited and much hoped for (by the likes of me) liberal fight-back? For a few years now we’ve been terrified by the spectre of a British public opinion which is, au fond, xenophobic, racist, ‘patriotic’ in a tribal sense, little Englander (or Britisher), hostile to ‘wokery’ in any of its forms, anti-‘Lefty lawyers’, despising ‘bleeding heart’ liberals and the ‘intelligentsia’, anti-politics  (even Labour politics); or, in a word, ‘Brexity’. (It was Brexit that brought all these characteristics bubbling to the surface.)

The word ‘populism’ to describe them implied that these were popular attitudes among the general populace; separating the latter from the ‘élitists’ who were seen to be turning up their noses at the hoi polloi. (Yes, I know that the ‘the’ there is tautological; but then I’m an élitist too.) The Conservative party has built much of its success over the past thirteen years on playing to this assumption: viz Michael Gove’s notorious claim in 2017 that ‘the people of this country have had enough of experts’: probably slightly misreported (; but resonant still. It was this that lay behind the Conservatives’ strategy in both the subsequent General Elections to target what was called the ‘red wall’ of voters, composed of mainly Northerners (Northern English, that is) who had traditionally voted Labour, but had never fully gone along with that party’s social-liberal values. It was also presented as more ‘democratic’; as it may well have been, if the demos thought as the Conservatives believed it did. (Or even if not.)

Hence the Labour Party’s reluctance to oppose an increasingly Right-wing Tory government over the issue of the ‘boat people’: refugees arriving in leaky dinghies on the southern beaches of England; in truth a relatively small problem, surely, but considered to be an ideal hook to haul the xenophobic, illiberal, Brexity (and all the rest) ‘populists’ in on. Few Labour politicians, especially in those ‘red wall’ seats, and with an unscrupulous propagandist popular press backing the ‘populists’ against them, risked lifting their liberal heads above the parapet in order to make a case for – at the very least – rescuing poor drowning asylum-seekers, and making it easier for them to reach safety, until their refugee credentials could be checked.

That is, until Gary Lineker. His recent story must be well-known all over the world by now. (Dagens Nyheter is full of it.) A brilliant ex-England footballer and now a TV football presenter, and by all accounts a thoroughly decent man, he provoked the rage of the political Right by daring to criticise the government’s strategy in response to the ‘boat people’: quite forcefully, and with a reference to Germany in the 1930s, in connexion (only) with the language used on both occasions; and not on TV, or in his capacity as a freelance commentator on the BBC, but on his own Twitter account. (See The Right went wild. Some of them thought this justified the abolition of the TV license fee, which many had campaigned against for years. (It’s ‘socialist’, you see.)

But Lineker had his defenders: other BBC people, archbishops, even some Tory politicians; and perhaps a good slice of those misjudged ‘populists’. For in the public eye football is more important – closer to people, at any rate – than politics; and Gary Lineker more worth listening to than Rishi, or the awful Suella, or Jacob Rees-Mogg. So his views may have reflected the much mooted ‘humane’ side of the British character, far more accurately than did those of Rishi, Sunak et al. And now he’s won!

It’s curious – and for Labour I guess a little bit shameful, that this ‘better’ – or, if you like, more ‘wokeish’ – side of the British national character should need to be expressed by a sportsman, rather than by a politician. But let’s hope it will encourage the liberals among the latter to raise their heads a little higher above that parapet, and begin the process of returning Britain to the proud, if only very partial and episodic, liberal traditions of her past.

And good for Gary! Possibly the best goal of his illustrious career.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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5 Responses to Back of the Net!

  1. mickc says:

    I have not seen the research results you cite, and would be grateful if you could point me to them.

    I speak only from my own present experience of factory work. My co- workers are quite simply “not xenophobic etc”. There is certainly the occasional humorous comment about “non British” co-workers but it is just that…humorous, not serious and accepted as such…and usually returned in spades. Yes, it is anecdotal but I don’t think that makes it invalid.

    The only comments I have heard which have been “meant”, as in seriously held views, were anti homosexuality. The comments were semi humorous about a co- worker (not to his face obviously) but definitely serious…and only from one or two people. Generally no-one cares.

    Obviously I haven’t seen the research you cite, but I do wonder if the researchers fully understood the context of the answers given to their questions. Rather like the police “verbals” given in court, context is everything. “Yeh, course I done it” given sarcastically at the time, reads and sounds somewhat differently later, and evidence of what one hopes to find is often quite easily inferred.


  2. mickc says:

    Btw…and off topic but a great article in the Guardian on Monday by Sharon Graham of Unite…it sets out exactly the problem with the present economic situation


  3. mickc says:

    Your post raises a number of points.

    Firstly if I have understood your meaning properly, I think you are wrong about the “white working class”. They are not xenophobic, racist, liitle Englanders or proto Fascist. But they certainly are “democratic” in that all parties having stated they would comply with the result of the Referendum many in all parties sought to prevent the result being enacted.

    That is why Corbyn almost beat May; he promised to do Brexit. It is also why Johnson beat Corbyn ( who was very much undermined by Starmer with his second referendum stuff).

    Secondly they have no problem with free speech…provided they can answer back as they want; in short, yes people may be “offended”…well, tough!

    Thirdly, people listen, or not, to Lineker about football, not politics. No-one except the “bubble” cares what Lineker thinks about anything else. Actually most don’t listen to the politicians any more either; they know they lie… blatantly.

    I’m also not sure it was the “Right” who made a fuss about Lineker; it was a flailing, losing party leadership with no “vision” either Left or Right, which is going to lose the next General Election badly. They are looking for a hook to hang a campaign on; this one won’t work.

    And the BBC is a subscription service, but a compulsory one. I think it should not be compulsory but effectively a “pay for what you want” service as is now common. I would certainly pay for some… very few… things but then I watch very little TV…most of it is rubbish.

    A blog I visit ( allegedly libertarian but I’m blocked…I said something they didn’t like…lol) had a great quote “there’s a problem if the TV screen is bigger than the library”…I tend to agree.


    • mickc: A considerable body of research exploring why working class men and women voted for Brexit and Boris Johnson discovered high levels of anti-foreigner sentiment. You do not refute this evidence of racism by simply saying it is not there.
      As in : “They are not xenophobic, racist, little Englanders …”

      Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t mean to imply that the ‘white working class’ (as you call them) really are quite as xenophobic (etc) as they’re painted, but only that Labour have assumed that of them, and so are nervous of coming out as too ‘liberal’ for fear of provoking them. My point was that Lineker may be able to tap into these ‘better’ feelings, more easily than politicians can.
      On their ‘democracy’ – well, we must differ there.


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