openDemocracyUK: Opinion

6 Tory MPs who jumped on the England bandwagon after condemning players

Tory MPs who criticised the England football team for turning a spotlight on social issues are now desperately trying to associate themselves with the Euro 2020 finalists

Anita Mureithi
11 July 2021, 12.01am
Mark Pain / Alamy Stock Photo

Priti Patel

UK Home Secretary PRITI PATEL is seen leaving 10 Downing Street
ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Just a month ago, Priti Patel dismissed taking the knee as ‘gesture politics’ while also defending the right of football fans to boo players choosing to do so. In her criticism of the England team, the Home Secretary called Black Lives Matter activism ‘devastating’ but failed to acknowledge the harm that institutional racism does - the issue that sparked the anti-racist protests in the first place. As the England team have gone from strength to strength, the Home Secretary has sincetweeted several times in support of the winning team.

Lee Anderson

REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

In a Facebook post written in June, the Ashfield MP wrote ‘For the first time in my life I will not be watching my beloved England team whilst they are supporting a political movement whose core principles aim to undermine our very way of life’. England’s players have been taking the knee ahead of kick-off as a gesture against racism and inequality - which raises the question of whether Anderson believes these evils to be part of ‘our way of life’. As the nation celebrates the team’s continued progress in the tournament, Anderson has maintained that he is sticking to his one-man boycott. Ahead of the finals, his stance has not changed. ‘There is nothing to update, I stick by my comments three weeks ago. Well done, well played I hope it continues.’ As millions tune in to watch England v Italy, Anderson will be unpacking boxes.

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Brendan Clarke-Smith
Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Brendan Clarke-Smith caused a storm of controversy in June after drawing parallels between England’s players ‘taking a knee’ and the Nazi salute. According to the Tory MP, England players in a 1938 match against Germany in Berlin did not want to give the Nazi salute but were forced to, and it has been a ‘great source of shame for many of those involved’ ever since. The fact that Clarke-Smith could even fathom a comparison between a peaceful protest against racism and a Nazi salute signifies his feelings towards the England football team’s core principles. This very same MP has since tweeted and retweeted multiple messages in support of the England team

Tom Hunt
Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

As England’s players fought for their place in the final, Tom Hunt proudly tweeted “We bloody did it”. However, prior to the Euro 2020 tournament, he urged the England football team to stop taking the knee before matches and to show their opposition to discrimination in other ways. The MP for Ipswich criticised the team and tweeted that he wished the players had followed the lead of the country’s cricket team, who had worn t-shirts with the slogan ‘cricket is a game for everyone’. Though Hunt emphasised the need to boost national unity during the competition, his criticism of a clear and powerful anti-racism gesture contradicts this message

Ben Bradley

Alan Keith Beastall / Alamy Stock Photo

Following mass protests over the death of George Floyd, Ben Bradley wrote to the Premier League to complain about the decision to put ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the back of footballers’ shirts in support of racial equality. The MP for Mansfield has condemned racism in the UK, adding that ‘When you start to push everyone to identify themselves by the colour of their skin, that is not a good thing’. Bradley suggests an approach to racism that doesn’t ‘single out characteristics’ that divide us. However, the reality is that there are characteristics that divide us - race, gender, religion, and so on. In order to dismantle the structures built upon those divisions, we must acknowledge our differences and the privilege that comes with certain characteristics. Despite Bradley’s open criticism of the England squad, he has since posted multiple tweets backing the team

Boris Johnson

Mark Pain / Alamy Stock Photo

In October 2020, MPs voted against Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals to children from low-income families during school holidays in England. The Prime Minister said that he would not change his policy on free school meals because families are already supported by the benefit system. What followed was a humbling U-turn that left many people wondering why it took the efforts of a young football player to convince the government to care about children going hungry. After repeatedly refusing to cede to Rashford’s campaign, Johnson phoned the Manchester United and England striker in November 2020 to inform him that he had changed his mind. Just a few months earlier, in June, Johnson had been forced into yet another U-turn over providing food vouchers to some of the country’s poorest families. This humiliating attempt to block action against child poverty did not stop the Prime Minister from publicly showing his support for the England football team, with several tweets being posted as England moves through the competition.

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