Gary Lineker in 2020. Photo: Flickr/Hammersmith & Fulham Council Gary Lineker in 2020. Photo: Flickr/Hammersmith & Fulham Council

Lindsey German on the football fiasco that’s ripped a hole in the racist mainstream and beyond  

There’s nothing mysterious about the Tories’ decision to highlight their ‘stop the boats’ campaign. They know that there is a strike wave unprecedented in scale for more than three decades. They know that they are deeply unpopular over a range of issues from the cost-of-living crisis to the collapse of the NHS, and that with present polling Labour will win the next election. They believe that the only way to rectify this and give themselves even the slimmest chance of holding onto power is to appeal to lowest common denominator politics, whipping up racism over asylum seekers and refugees, launching a ‘war on woke’, and hoping that by doing so they can divide working class people against each other, rather than focusing on the real enemy of the Tories and the ruling class they represent.

The particularly vicious attack on the people crossing the Channel in small boats is promoted as a means of achieving this. No one arriving in Britain this way will be allowed to stay. So the new Tory bill states, insisting that those who wanting to claim asylum will be sent back to the country they came from or to Rwanda in order to do so. On a purely humanitarian level, this is a barbaric policy. People arriving by these dangerous routes to Britain do so out of the greatest desperation and misery. They are fleeing from war, persecution, and environmental devastation in their own countries. In many instances, Britain has a direct responsibility for them, having waged war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya – in each case supposedly for humanitarian reasons. Many are Iranians, fleeing persecution there, and some escaping the terrible damage from the floods in Pakistan. All deserve solidarity, support and decent treatment, not scapegoating and demonising.

Gary Lineker’s tweet made some very simple points along these lines, stating that the language used was reminiscent of 1930s Germany. In this he was surely right. The various laws repressing Jews, but also all forms of political opposition, were implemented over a number of years, and laid the basis for what became the horrors of the Holocaust. So we should be extremely wary when we hear talk that demonises a group. Today we hear repeatedly of ‘invasions’, ‘swarms’ and we have had to listen to Suella Braverman’s false claim that 100 million refugees were potentially heading to Britain.

Lineker is right to note the dehumanising effect of such language. His tweet was enough however to bring forth a letter of complaint from Tory MPs and his suspension on Friday from presenting the BBC’s Match of the Day last weekend. This in turn has backfired on the BBC with the remarkable solidarity wildcat strike by others involved in BBC sports programmes refusing to appear.

My guess is the BBC top brass – Tory placemen every one – will have to back down. The decision to punish Lineker has totally backfired, not just in engendering a wave of sympathy for him personally, but also highlighting the nature of the law itself and the obsequiousness of the BBC to the Tory government. Even Starmer’s Labour, whose spokespeople initially attacked Lineker, has been forced to jump on the bandwagon, and Rishi Sunak is obviously feeling the heat, given that he put out a statement on Saturday night saying that he hoped the issue could be resolved.

But this vicious law is being pushed through parliament by his government and must be resisted – not just attacked on the grounds that it could be done more efficiently, as Labour has been doing. We should be clear where these policies end. Two weeks ago a boat travelling from Turkey was wrecked off the coast of Calabria, southern Italy, with 79 people drowned, 24 of them under the age of 12, 9 others under 18. There are accusations that the Italian coastguard did not help to rescue them because of the policy of the government, led by the fascist Giorgia Meloni, who claims political lineage from the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Many of the refugees were from Afghanistan, some of them those who had worked for the British there and were entitled to come here but became desperate after waiting so long for their cases to be processed.

Another 1,300 refugees have since been rescued from boats off the coasts of Sicily and Lampedusa. Meloni, meanwhile was filmed singing a duet with her fellow minister Matteo Salvini, head of the far right Lega Nord, at his 50th birthday party. The song tells of a young girl who drowned in mysterious circumstances. You really couldn’t make these people up.

The British and Italian governments are both taking this hard line for domestic political reasons. In this they are pandering to the most racist elements, and lay the basis for the far right and fascists to grow. Opposition is however also growing, with a local demonstration in Calabria including union members and faith groups making clear revulsion at the policy. The storm over Lineker has helped to build opposition here.

But we also need to fight on other fronts against the government – most importantly over the strikes. March 15th – Budget Day – is going to be the biggest strike day so far, with more than half a million taking action and a mass demo in London. Teachers and civil servants are taking the lead, with junior doctors, London tube workers and university staff joining in. Other unions have suspended action to continue talks.  In my view this is a mistake given there is in most cases little concrete on offer, pay rises are well below inflation, and lots of deals are trying to attach strings in the name of ‘efficiency’ and ‘modernisation’.

The Budget announced on Wednesday is likely to make a few small concessions for example on the costs of childcare for those on universal credit, and energy payments, but its main aim is to get people ‘back to work’. It’s clear that this means work on low wages and with worsening conditions – more of the same that we’ve had since the banking crisis of 2008. So now is not the time to abandon the strikes but to press home our advantage. They have already cost the economy considerable sums of money and they have pushed employers to offer small increases. They have also shown our strength and resolve, increased union membership and been widely supported by the public. Wednesday’s strikes remain vitally important for that and need to be extended and deepened over the coming months.

It’s crucial here to make the links between the Tory government and employers’ attack on us as trade unionists, with them promoting the most hypocritical and cruel policies for refugees. In this way we can weaken their attacks on the most vulnerable while also strengthening our side in the class struggle. Because this is being fought at a number of different levels: on trade union rights, war, racism and sexism. It’s also a time therefore to build socialist politics which can provide an answer to a world in crisis.

This week: I will be joining the big demo in London on Wednesday 15 March, my picket line on Thursday at University of Hertfordshire, and the anti-racist march in support of refugees on Saturday. If I have time for reading I may look again at Ian Kershaw’s Making Friends with Hitler about appeaser (and cousin of Winston Churchill) Lord Londonderry. An antidote to Tory hypocrisy on this question.

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

Tagged under: