Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Tyrone Mings, Priti Patel and the slippery slope of English nationalisim

Posted on 15 July 2021 by Nathan Frazer-Carroll

On July 12, the Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted the most hypocritical of messages.

“I am disgusted that England Players who have given so much for our country this summer have been subject to vile racist abuse on social media. It has no place in our country and I back the police to hold those responsible accountable.” said Patel.

If the Home Secretary believed it had no place in our society, she would have acted very differently during her time in government.

The message was quickly seized upon by the twitter-sphere, with most referring to the blatant hypocrisy of her statement. Just weeks ago, Patel stated that ‘fans’ attending England matches have every right to boo players for taking the knee before kick-off.

One such commenter was England and Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings who bluntly responded to the Home Secretary.

“You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against happens” said Mings.

He’s right. Patel’s response to the horrible onslaught of racist abuse that Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho suffered online cannot, and should not be taken seriously.

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It should only be seen as honeyed words for respectable optics.

In reality, Patel has attempted to appease anti-racists with one hand, and wave on the mob with the other.

The Home Secretary’s claim that people can choose whether to boo the England team for taking the knee serves as ample justification for racists to voice their discriminatory beliefs in ordinary spaces.

During and since the 2016 Brexit referendum, strong nationalism has been an inescapable part of the English life. One danger of a country succumbing to strong nationalist ideas is that nuanced discussions become extremely partisan.

Race conversations begin to be held in an information vacuum and instead of considering all available evidence, it becomes Us vs Them. This dynamic fuels ‘culture wars’ which seem to thrive so abundantly under Tory leadership.

A prime example of this is the recent assertion that Black Lives Matter is synonymous with Marxism.

This assertion has stemmed from a newly surfaced interview from 2015 where three of BLM’s co-founders claimed to be of a Marxist school of thought.

In reality the majority of those who support BLM do not associate themselves with a Marxist ideology.

However, opponents of BLM in England and the US have taken aim at those who choose to take the knee. Claiming – they won’t support a Marxist organisation.

It should be abundantly clear to most, that when players like Marcus Rashford take the knee, they are doing so as a statement against very real racism and discrimination, not in order to bring down the capitalist regime.

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Whilst a strong national identity can be seen as key to holding a country together, we need to recognise when it goes too far. Enabling the marginalisation of any ethnic group is crossing the line.

In a letter to the Home Secretary in January 2021, Patel was described by four UK charities as ‘fuelling racist attacks in the same way Donald Trump did in the US’. These accusations came shortly after Patel bragged about refugee removal numbers and vilified activist lawyers fighting for refugee settlement.

The letter to the Home Secretary reads: “Days after you claimed ‘activist lawyers’ were frustrating removals, solicitors at the Duncan Lewis law firm were subject to a knife attack.”

This is a troubling example of just how real the consequences can be when you essentially egg on those who hold strong nationalist beliefs. The charities who signed the letter have called on the government to stop using inflammatory language when talking about asylum seekers and to bring about measures to tackle far-right extremism.

The Home Secretary’s recent and apparent one-eighty implies she did not get the message.

To me, Patel’s voting record is indicative of her lack of concern for social issues. One can only assume she either has no regard for equality or has some vested interest in voting against it at almost every turn.

In 2013, Patel voted twice against the same-sex marriage bill. She also voted against the Commission for Equality and Human Rights continuing to support the development of a society where people are not limited by prejudice and discrimination.

In 2015, she voted against mitigating disproportionate burdens on women and against publishing a gender equality strategy.

The pattern here is startling, frankly because Patel is a woman and a child of immigration herself. In fact, her own parents would have never made it into the UK under her 2019 immigration policies.

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The point behind all of this, is that it is wholly unsurprising that Patel would advocate for some peoples’ rights to boo England’s antiracist message and then condemn racist abuse when it occurs.

This Conservative government’s U-turn-count in the past five years boggles the mind, yet policy reversals have become the new normal for many politicians.

I cannot help but realise that Patel’s political gaff has stirred mixed feelings in me. On the one hand there is a vindicating quality to seeing obvious hypocrisies brought to light, especially when it concerns such an emotive topic and divisive figure.

Yet on the other hand I am confined to only a moments satisfaction. As black and brown people living in the UK have come to accept the fact – proving a racist wrong doesn’t gain you much. Tangible change is needed.

There is one shining light however, in an otherwise dark time for identity politics. This England squad represents a younger, more self-aware brand of Englishness. One that stands up and speaks out. That’s a testament to this group of young men who I am proud to say represent me.