Sorry Tories, Lineker can say what he likes on Twitter
Every International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the same two-word phrase is repeated, over and over and over: Never Again.
It is a quite deliberate reminder that no one should ever think that what happened then could not happen again, and it is also a quite deliberate call to arms: to show absolutely zero tolerance towards any attempt to walk a single centimetre down the road to which it leads.
There have been, in very recent times, extremely grave failures at living up to those standards of zero tolerance. Donald Trump was not even president when he called for a “total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the United States of America,” a policy he later did his best to enact.
He made it entirely clear, in that moment, precisely who he was. It wasn’t sufficient to stop Piers Morgan lovingly changing his social media profile pictures to photos of him and Trump with their arms round each other, and to write gushing columns about how great it felt to be called “the champ” by an unapologetic racist; not to mention a man who is happy to wear a microphone and brag about sexually assaulting women.
These things were not sufficient to stop Michael Gove flying to New York to interview Trump in his office, to pose for photos doing his little thumbs-up gesture, while Rupert Murdoch sat quietly and approvingly in the corner.
Fast forward a few years and their once best chum has orchestrated an attempted fascist coup on the Capitol in which five people have been killed, including a police officer. And there are depositions filed in a New York court house that show Uncle Rupert panicking that his own TV network, Fox News, “went too far” in indulging Trump’s deranged conspiracy theories about stolen elections.
There are no lessons to be learned here with the power of hindsight. There are no excuses. It was all blindingly obvious in foresight. It is precisely why the words Never Again are the right ones, and they are right to always be repeated.
And so we turn to the big news of the day, which is that Gary Lineker has done a tweet that the government doesn’t like. He has described the asylum policy thus: “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 Tories are predictably outraged, as they have been with Gary Lineker for years. (Not long after the referendum, one right-wing newspaper columnist became so outraged by him
that he publicly announced a ban on Walkers Crisps in his own household, which is totally normal behaviour.)
You would think having a chap who’s donated them four hundred grand as chair of the BBC and a man who once ran for election for them as director general would be sufficient. You would also think that after nearly a full decade of frothing, they would have finally got round to understanding that BBC impartiality guidelines do not apply to freelance staff in the sports department.
If people look at their TV screens and see their prime minister standing behind a big lectern that reads ‘Stop The Boats’, and it reminds them of horrific times from the not-so-distant past, they are entitled to say so
Much to their disappointment, he can say what he likes.
Robert Jenrick is outraged. He wants you to know the following: “My children are the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and I think those sorts of words should not be thrown around lightly.” Maybe he should remember the time during the 2016 referendum campaign when Johnson described the EU as a “Nazi superstate”.
The immigration minister also reckons that Lineker is “paid for by the British taxpayer [which isn’t true], and it’s disappointing that he is so far out of step with the British public”. It’s not necessarily all that clear whether Jenrick has thought very hard about whether he really wants to be suggesting that publicly funded salaries should somehow be index linked to being “in step with the British public”. How much of their wages should a government currently polling at 25 per cent get to keep? If Jenrick and co are so desperate to be in step with the British public they should have resigned six months ago.
Lee Anderson thinks he should stick to “flogging crisps” as he’s out of touch with “the voting public.” Sadly, in Anderson’s case, one doubts it will dawn on him who is and isn’t out of touch with the voting public until he’s trying to get a cab home from a sports centre in Ashfield at 2am after the next general election, ideally via the job centre.
Lineker, it hardly needs to be stated, has every right to describe what he sees. It is certainly true that Nazi comparisons are rarely helpful, though Lineker’s critics naturally had no problem when Johnson did the same. But rare is not the same as never.
If people look at their television screens and see their prime minister standing behind a big lectern that reads “Stop The Boats”, and it reminds them of horrific times from the not-sodistant past, they are entitled to say so.
If the home secretary writes execrable garbage in the newspapers, and repeats it in the House of Commons, about how “100 million people are coming here,” people are not merely entitled but obliged to show zero tolerance. To call it what it is.
It may very well be true that new illegal migration policy is not so different from Sweden, Denmark and other socially liberal countries.
But there are ways to go about it that don’t deliberately bear the hallmark of authoritarianism. It is their choice, for example, to frame their policy as a battle with human rights lawyers. During Prime Minister’s Questions, Rishi Sunak wafted his forearm in the direction of Keir Starmer and dismissed him as a “leftie lawyer”. Though I do not know for certain, I do not think interior ministers of other countries have given interviews in which they state how they, “dream of seeing a Telegraph front page with a plane taking off to Rwanda”.
(Braverman, one imagines, will have been disappointed that her role in the Big Day of pantomime cruelty didn’t make the Telegraph front page either. That honour went to Lineker.)
If the government wants to talk down human rights, to dismiss the law with a wave of the hand, then they can hardly be surprised that it reminds people of precisely what it is.
It is their choice to use the arrival of small boats as a pretext to shift toward deliberate two-bit populism. At PMQs, Sunak really did call the plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda “the people’s priority,” and that by opposing it, Starmer was out of touch with them. There is, very obviously, absolutely no evidence to support the idea that a clear majority of British people are in favour of enforced deportation to Rwanda (not least as Rwanda has currently agreed to take a maximum of 200 people, for which he has already paid them £120m, and precisely none have arrived.)
There is much to be said for toning down rhetoric, but it can only start in one place. And that place is with the government, not the presenter of Match of the Day.
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