In 1947 the socially notorious Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote the untitled poem beginning “Do not go gentle into that good night”. In it he exhorts the unknown addressee, often presumed to be his dying father, to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”.
In the pitiful backwater that is Brexit Britain, friendless, alone and going nowhere but down, this poem has particular significance. The “good night” is the inevitable collapse of the Revolt of the Dispossessed which lay behind the Brexit dream. Those who still pretend this isn’t happening are not going gentle but raging, hoping the same old arguments will somehow become true if they scream them louder, and make them badges of honour they think will protect them from the Day of Reckoning.
No British voter is able to move on from Brexit because of the economic and social damage it is causing them, but also because its proponents have a cop out. Those who didn’t support Brexit still think the reality of it will eventually win the other side over to their point of view, and they are correct in that.
But the Brexiteers don’t care if anyone agrees with them. Their arguments remain exactly the same as before the referendum, because they can’t point to anything positive Brexit has produced which they can argue for. If anyone disagrees, they can simply be branded, as ever, as Enemies of the People, crooks conspiring against the whole population, rapidly dwindling though that “whole population” actually is.
Will anything change that? Is there a way the supporters of the Great Con can avoid ending up like the lonely madmen who still scrawl “Hitler Lives” on the back of the Komgresshalle in Nuremberg
Finally there appears to be one. Rather than the ranks collapsing from within, one of the few figures on the other side who Brexiteers respect has changed the terms of the argument when all others have failed.
He never set out to do this, and must be humbled at sleepwalking into being his country’s salvation. However Brexiteers can now face the reality without fear, as the enemy now has discovered a human and sympathetic face.
More Important Than Life and Death
Former England football international Gary Lineker is many things to many people. But above all he is regarded as a nice guy, and as he was never yellow carded during his playing career, despite being a striker subject to often brutal provocation by defenders, this seems to be one example where fan worship is fully justified.
Lineker scored 48 goals for England, one short of the national record, and gained much sympathy when his manager took him off during his final game when he was trying to break that record. Given that he is also highly articulate, knowledgeable and handsome, it was perhaps inevitable that he was invited to join the BBC as a sports presenter when his playing days were over, soon fronting its flagship football programme, Match of the Day.
Brexit supporters, like football fans, come in all shapes and sizes. But there is a symbiotic relationship between staples of the English tradition, such as football, and those who feel left behind in a world controlled by other people.
England invented the game, its league and first cup competitions are the oldest in the world and the competitive structure of the English game has been copied in practically every country. This is the sort of tradition Brexiteers see as threatened by foreigners, or non-white British, hence the objections to clubs buying success when their funds come from foreign sources.
Nevertheless, even the most ardent foreign-basher will still turn out to support their favourite club, whatever the composition of the team, management or ownership, because the club can absorb any individual into the tradition it represents. The same is also true in reverse: few saw Lineker as a traitor when he exchanged Everton for Barcelona, even though some would maintain that his views might then have been corrupted by exposure to nasty foreign ways.
It can therefore be said that football is part of the Brexiteer’s self-proclaimed identity, regardless of the range of views of English football supporters as a whole. In their view, the “real” supporter is the dispossessed Brexiteer, for whom the club and the game are more important than foreign innovations.
But this also means that Gary Lineker, the face of football, is someone they instinctively feel a bond with. Whatever his politics are, he is on their side by default. Events have now shown that football may not be more important than politics, but the love of football is.
Loudmouth in Sheep’s Clothing
Like any other individual in the UK, Gary Lineker has political views and the right to express them freely. He does this quite a lot on social media, and has developed a reputation as a left-leaning liberal, not an extremist but someone identified with the “trendy” positions Brexiteers blame for everything.
But Lineker holds these views as exactly that: a private individual. He has no connection with BBC political programming, and never talks about politics in his sports presenting work.
Indeed he can be said to be highly professional in this area. Whilst he was being sued by another player, Harry Kewell, for comments he had made in a newspaper article, Lineker discussed Kewell as he would any other player, which played a part in the case being settled without money changing hands. Nor is Lineker asked to contribute to anything other than sports programmes, precisely because his views are his own, he doesn’t represent any party, group or ideology.
BBC presenters operate under “impartiality guidelines”. They are not supposed to go mouthing off about politics in case their personal views are taken as those of the BBC itself. However those same guidelines specify that “The risk is lower where an individual is expressing views publicly on an unrelated area, for example, a sports or science presenter expressing views on politics or the arts.”
There are many Brexiteers who would disagree with Gary Lineker’s Twitter comment that the UK government’s new refugee policy is “immeasurably cruel” and “expressed in language not dissimilar to that used in Germany in the 1930s”. If a politician said that, they would be dismissed out of hand as someone out to destroy the good, decent football fans who are rapidly losing their remaining jobs and hope.
But this is Gary Lineker, their own Golden Boy, the face of what they say they are. Attack him, you attack the tradition you claim to be defending against views such as these.
Lineker isn’t a direct BBC employee, he is a freelancer, so how far the guidelines even apply to him is an open question unless he is commenting in an official, work-related capacity. But the BBC thought that Tweet was a step too far.
It was announced that Lineker had “agreed to step back” from presenting Match of the Day until agreement was reached over his social media usage. Lineker made it clear through other outlets that he had not agreed to anything of the kind, they had suspended him.
Cue petitions in his favour signed by hundreds of thousands of people. Cue all the other BBC sports presenters refusing to present programmes either, and football managers refusing to give interviews to the BBC unless they could complain about how Lineker was being treated for exercising his democratic rights.
Now the BBC has backed down, and announced a review of its guidelines, and Lineker will be returning to Match of the Day, at least for now. For the first time in recent history, it matters what sort of person someone is, not what his politics are, despite all the Brexiter attempts to make the opposite hold true forever.
The BBC has behaved exactly as the Brexiteers maintain the EU does, subverting their traditions and interests with petty regulations. So the large percentage of Brexiteers who have supported Lineker in this row can be said to have now started to believe that it isn’t Remainers who are their enemies, but the British institutions they claim to uphold, who are attacking their cherished values to a greater degree.
Penny for the Guy
Lineker wouldn’t be the first popular figure from outside politics to change the paradigm of public debate. In one particular case it only took one comment to demonstrate to the public that what they didn’t like was more important than the people they held responsible for it, and their own side was doing it, not the supposed enemy.
In the 1970s Astrid Lindgren, author of the globally popular Pippi Longstocking children’s books, complained that she was being taxed at over 100% of her earnings by the Swedish government. The Social Democrats had been in power for 40 years, but lost the subsequent election largely because of this.
Taxing “class enemies” for the common good was one thing, but bleeding dry one of the people’s own, whatever their politics might have been, was quite another. The government had become the enemy of the very people they claimed to be representing, using the very same repressive methods they accused the other side of using.
Nor would this development come as a surprise to those who lived under Communism, and saw all its egalitarian ideals create a self-perpetuating elite even more restrictive and out of touch than the one before, and behaving in the same way. Nor to the residents of countries where the military has taken over to restore order, then created more chaos than before, or where the US controls the national government to ensure democratic standards are met, but is the prime mover in preventing those ever existing.
In each of those other cases the new broom which swept the same old rubbish into people’s faces defended itself with the same old arguments. Intellectually, the arguments still held some water. But this did not obscure the fact that the things people didn’t like, the ones which had resulted in that group gaining power, were still there because the current rulers were forcing them on them, and the public hadn’t grown to like these abuses over the years.
The BBC is often accused by its critics of left-wing bias. More recently the extent of what former news presenter Emily Maitlis has described as “infiltration” by the Conservative Party has been revealed.
The public doesn’t like either side controlling its media companies. Gary Lineker has unwittingly brought this fact to a head, just when we thought the same old arguments would be enough to disguise what has always been going on.
No Way Back to Nowhere
Will this issue go away, now Lineker has been partially reinstated? Not on your life. What the incident has exposed is still there, and won’t go away unless someone else comes along, promising to rescue everyone from Brexit and its underlying ideology.
At present, no one is doing that. Politicians of all stripes are still running scared of Brexiteers because they are so loud and aggressive, not because they have a majority any more. No party which might win significant votes is saying “enough is enough”, rather than offering to pilot the sinking ship onto different rocks.
No one could call Gary Lineker loud and aggressive though. Here is the opportunity to replace that behaviour with decency even the most ardent Brexiteer can’t claim is unwelcome.
No one needs to argue about Brexit anymore, only about the corruption the EU was once accused of, but is now more visible in the ranks of the Brexit government and its patsies. The answer is not, in itself, reversing Brexit but in making a new “no victor, no vanquished” speech, attacking the abuses themselves, not whomever they are associated with.
Within that paradigm, the EU is a means of improving the living standards and influence of the UK, including for those most stridently opposed to immigrants taking their jobs and homes, or roaming around living on benefits, or both simultaneously. It won’t be the means of preventing the abuses of the present UK government, but if others are doing that, this will be irrelevant.
The UK has a way out because everyone wants to be Gary Lineker, and be seen supporting him, whatever they think of his politics. His country may not have known this itself a few weeks ago, but if it really wants to do what is in its best interests, which it will eventually conclude is its best option, putting values over enemies is the way to do it.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.