Gary Lineker Attempts Government Take Down by Twitter!
Or at least, so the media would have you assume. But what are the particulars of his tweet, how accurate is his criticism, and why did the Conservative Party react so strongly?
Last Tuesday, right after a tweet celebrating Chelsea’s victory over the Germans (practically an oxymoron), Match of the Day presenter, English football legend, and Labour activist Gary Lineker published a short tweet criticising the UK’s Home Secretary’s latest immigration policy.
In a further thread explaining his position, Lineker elaborated, saying Suella Braverman’s policy was “immeasurably cruel” and that it contained language “not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.
This seems to have enraged more conservatives than pretty much any left-wing analysis of their policy over the last few years. Saying more than a bit about the state of the opposition.
Lineker spawned a storm of criticism from the Parliamentary Conservative Party at the pithy pundit, at the BBC, at anyone sympathetic to refugees, in fact at pretty much anyone that moved, and led the BBC to indefinitely suspend Lineker as host of Match of the Day. A modern day putsch on the punter and perhaps a little passive agresso.
Why did the tweet provoke such a reaction from the party that claims to champion free speech? The playbook for some on the right would appear to be silence in the face of calls by ambush mobs to execute trans men and women outside book readings, but woe to the transgressive who dares criticise their push-out-the-less-welcome-escapees-from-Calais thingy. Mind you, have you visited Calais lately?
Perhaps the issue the Conservative’s have with Lineker’s analysis has much to do with the historical accuracy of his statements rather than they're lack of love for ‘the beautiful sport’. Remember the old adage - the truth hurts! Well, Lineker hit a raw nerve. His statement reflects not just our government’s worrying language (compared to Nazi Germany), but also a fear by those in charge that there might be some truth to the matter. Namely that comparative elements of our government’s new approach to immigration may find similarity with the real, now generally recognized as dishonourable, thoughts of many in the 1930s.
So let’s consider if the language of the Tory party reflects those of 1930s Germany, since I mean, clearly their actions, censoring the opinion of those who disagree with them is not exactly distinct from those German governments.
The 1930s political environment in Germany is generally considered something of a “low moment” among historians. (Ya think!)
Devasted by the First World War, Versailles, and Great Depression the German national mood was primed to allow for an authoritarian rise. The man who was able to take advantage of that was one with a big voice and a smaller moustache, and he used that voice in particular ways to evoke popular sentiment opposed to his identified enemies of the state. We won't go into how he used his moustache.
A common easy rhetorical device to dehumanise those enemies was to compare them to “vermin” or “parasites”, a simple process of highlighting both the reasons not to sympathise with these people who were not at the same level of humanity as the common German, and the threat they posed to German society. Yep, low point indeed.
On top of this though there was a tendency to suggest Jews were the primary reason for German society’s issues, particularly taking the blame for their economic strife. And we know how that ended.
In the 2020s the political environment in the UK is also considered something of a “low moment” among those unfortunate enough to live in the current British economy. Devasted by the costs of the Ukraine War, Brexit and “Trussonomics”, the British national mood recently reached a deafening low enabling Rishi Sunak to be installed as PM while failing to win a single national election - or two, but who's counting. Seemingly unable to control his party, its members, and particularly his own government ministers, new rhetorical devices began popping up in British governmental discussions of the supposed “immigration” problem.
Suella Braverman, the anti-woke Home Secretary, had described the coming refugees and immigrants as an “invasion”, while in the recent past a Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron had called migrants crossing the Mediterranean a “swarm”. Additionally, just last year Robert Jenrick suggested British employers were selecting immigrant labourers over British ones. Seems like these echo something we’ve heard before…..
Perhaps more notable than the parallels among language used, is the parallels in the nature of legislation. I think most would agree that German approaches to the so-called Jewish issue reflected something of an infringement on human rights. In a similar sense though Suella Braverman admitted that her own bill handling migrants coming across the Channel on small boats may in fact breach human rights law… But at least it only has about a 50% chance of being approved according to her, so maybe this is just a cruel parallel to make - or just shitty odds from Paddy Power!
What is less cruel a comparison is the popular violence being inspired by the somewhat loose language of the Government. Kristallnacht is best remembered as the beginning of outright violence toward German Jews under the Nazi regime, but it is also essential to remember that this was an action not just called upon by the Nazi government, but carried out by common people as well, it was popular violence that was inflicted upon the Jewish people.
In recent days we have seen in the UK a growth in violence toward refugee populations, reflecting the somewhat violent language invoked by the British government. Riot police had to be called to prevent violent protestors assaulting asylum seekers in Liverpool, while Suella Braverman has been warned by Border Force staff that her language itself is provoking violence and hostility toward asylum seekers and refugees coming to the UK.
Lately, Nazi German links might feel like the go to critique of right-wing government, For the opposition it seems like every day the Tories do something apparently reflective of Hitler, or the Republicans produce legislation unseen in the west since Germany in 1939.
There’s a risk the public might be becoming inured/tired/bored-brainless to the comparison…. a little too much crying wolf/spilling milk/wobbling Rish! So the harder right Tory bleats how dare he compare us to Nazi’s, while Lineker was careful not to say Nazi. And the rest of us just want the football back on the telly so we don't have to get bankrupted signing up to Sky Sports.
We should remember that not all German’s were Nazi. Linekar was comparing the rhetoric and subsequent policy of 1930’s Germany. A subtle, yet way bigger difference than the then leaders moustache!
Where Lineker fails is that he neglects to highlight the true parallel to the historic language of the 1930’s British Conservative. It is often understated, possibly because we are afraid of discussing how Britain failed Jewish people in the 1930s and 40s, but British language towards the Jewish refugee and migrant was not one of acceptance or invitation.
British government officials were reluctant to allow Jews into the nation, as they fretted over potential threats to British jobs, that they would fail to assimilate to British society, and that their presence would disturb the antisemitic populations within the UK already.
With time we recognised that British failure to act in the 1930s reflected a grand tragedy of the UK’s history with antisemitism, brought somewhat up to date with some dodgy choices by Jeremy Corbyn, even though the actions and horrors of the holocaust are certainly not attributable to them. But it is important to reflect on how Britain failed to act, to ensure we don’t repeat, and most importantly, to try and identify where those parallels actually are in our modern day.
Also, dare I venture to ask that the British government worry a little more about issues like why ‘we’re all broke and where’s the growth gonna come’ from than whether the Walkers crisps spokesman approves of their policies. Perhaps they need to own their policies a bit more - warts and all. After all, sticks and stones ………
The Letts Journal is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Keep up to date with the Letts Journal’s latest news stories and updates on twitter.