England’s Euro 2020 campaign kicks off on Sunday, and perhaps the most laborious part of it is the debate around whether the England players should be taking the knee prior to kick off. It is an imported debate from our American cousins and is testament to how Americanised our country has become that everyone seems polarised over the issue. Really, it is completely trivial.
All over social media, politicians and commentators have been tying themselves in knots. For the Conservatives, Ashfield MP Lee Anderson said he would not watch England games during the tournament because the players would be taking the knee. His colleague, Brendan Clarke-Smith managed to edge him on the hyperbole front, claiming taking the knee was akin to a Nazi salute.
For Labour, Diane Abbott claimed all England fans who booed taking the knee were racists, while left-wing commentators have been doing their best to plead ignorance whenever the far-left agenda of the Black Lives Matter organisation is mentioned, as if it isn’t problematic. Everyone needs to take a step back and have a deep breath.
Taking the knee hit the headlines when Colin Kaepernick, an American Football player, knelt during the U.S. national anthem in protest against police brutality and racial inequality. At that time, while causing a stir, it was nothing to do with the organisation Black Lives Matter. They may have since highjacked the symbol, but it is certainly not a gesture owned by that movement.
A social or political organisation should not be immune from criticism. The Black Lives Matter organisation is overtly Marxist in its outlook, supports policies like defunding the police and has posted anti-Semitic content on social media. Those on the left who pretend to not be aware of this to push their own views are just as bad as those on the right getting overly worked up.
But the Black Lives Matter organisation is hardly relevant to the discussion about race in the UK and this is borne out by facts, with Britons increasingly racially tolerant in their attitudes and positive about the future social harmony of the UK.
Evidence shows that, when asked, a plurality of people think that Black Lives Matter, the organisation, has had no impact on discussions about racism in the UK and people are fairly split on their perceptions of the organisation itself. In addition, fans are almost evenly split on the issue of kneeling, showing that the idea fans are some monolith on one side of the ‘culture war’ demanding an end to the gesture is demonstrably wrong.
The evidence paints a positive and inclusive picture of Brits, but part of the problem is that we now see everything through the prism of that terrible imported American phrase ‘culture war’. There are too many on the right who are happy to indulge this dangerous far left fantasy that the country is inextricably divided. It is a dangerous road to go down, especially when it is far removed from what much of the public actually think. There is a growing inability on the right to separate trivial, fringe ideas from genuinely important debates.
The England manager, Gareth Southgate, has explained why he and his players take the knee. Stating they do it in objection to racial inequality, rejecting any affiliation with any political or social movement. We should take that at face value; it is much easier to believe than the non-credible idea that much of the England team are Marxists chomping at the bit to join the Young Communist League of Britain.
If England players want to take the knee, then that is their prerogative. Concerns about the gestures’ links to obscure organisations with fringe views that have virtually no impact on the UK public is a weak argument against respecting freedom of expression.
England have distanced themselves from the political and cultural views of Black Lives Matter and that should be enough for those concerned about unsavoury associations. This is not a new front in the ‘culture war’ and any attempt to make it one only plays into the hands of those on the far left who seek to divide our society more and more. Those on the right getting dragged into the argument are a classic example of those who cannot separate the trivial from the non-trivial.
In any event, anyone who is prepared to let what does or does not happen in the first 10 seconds of a game ruin the subsequent 90 minutes needs to go and sit in a dark corner and have a serious think about proportionality. England have a fantastic young team and anyone who calls themselves a football fan should be excited to see what they can do come Sunday.