Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of a “failure of leadership” for not expressly backing England players’ persistence with taking the knee before matches, which threatens to undermine the national side’s chances at the European Championships.
In his rant, Starmer urged the PM to follow the example of England Manager, Gareth Southgate who penned a divisive letter earlier this week in which explained why he supports players kneeling in surrender before matches. The gesture is linked to the highly controversial Black Lives Matter movement – yesterday Arsenal Football Club tweeted pictures of their players taking the knee wearing dark tops emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter”, Starmer is an Arsenal fan.
Southgate’s letter was prompted by England fans booing at successive international friendlies as players took the knee. In his long note addressed to “England” Southgate imperiously declared he would “ignore” the clearly expressed opposition of many dedicated England fans to mixing up extreme politics in sport.
Yesterday, Scotland announced they would not be taking the knee at Euro 2020, which kicks off today.
Cabinet ministers have stuck their necks out this week in bashing woke causes. On Monday, culture secretary Oliver Dowden supported suspended England cricketer, Ollie Robinson. Education secretary, Gavin Williamson then condemned a decision by Oxford students to take down a portrait of the Queen. Boris backed both moves.
He was more equivocal about England fans booing BLM however. The PM’s spokesperson told the media he “fully respects the right of those who choose to peacefully protest and make their feelings known.” As far as the liberal media was concerned, it was a strong endorsement of England fans booing, even though Boris has since softened his stance.
Starmer takes the same view and lashed out against his Boris while lording over his status as an Arsenal fan, reminding everyone yet again that he attended England’s Euro 96 semi-final against Germany at Wembley. Southgate infamously missed a penalty in the shootout, sending England’s rivals through.
“Unlike the prime minister I’m a true football fan,” Starmer said arrogantly. “I’m a football fan who supports Arsenal and England. I want both of them to win and a fan doesn’t boo his or her own team. It’s a fundamental rule of being a fan.”
The Labour leader described Southgate’s letter as “fantastic”, adding, “it spoke to the pride I have in the England football team. Every time I see England play I have pride. That’s why I go and watch them play, and desperately want them to do well.
“I would encourage the prime minister to read that piece by Gareth Southgate if he hasn’t done so and actually have the courage to say the right thing to do is support the team when we’ve got a chance of doing well. All of those players have huge pride in their country and in that sense they’re in the same position as the fans.”
Attacking patriotic fans for booing against Marxism, the ideology associated with the BLM movement which has branched out well beyond civil rights, Starmer said: “The idea you boo the team is completely wrong. This is a response to what is an important collective decision by the team about their expression of their opposition to discrimination and racism. That’s the decision they’ve taken and I think they’re right.
“All of us should support them and all of us in a position to do so should show leadership, as Gareth Southgate has done, and have the courage to call it out and say it’s the wrong thing to do. The prime minister was wrong when he refused to call it out. He didn’t have the guts to call it out, he hedged his bets and in doing so he undermined the team on the verge of this competition.
“He didn’t have the courage to side with the players. That is leadership. Compare and contrast him and Gareth Southgate on this. He didn’t have the courage to stand by the England team on the verge of this competition and he’s wrong about that and that’s a failure of leadership.”