by Martin Odoni

It is quite disturbing what triggers the right wing in Britain, and what does not, and put any thought into the issue, and it is a massive giveaway about the reality of the sort of people they are.

Taking the knee

Football has joined other sports over the last couple of years globally with the phenomenon of ‘Taking The Knee’; before games begin, all players on the field drop to one knee as a protest against racism, emulating the much mistreated American football quarterback, Colin Kaepernick.

The reaction from the extreme right, and even from the conservative right, was disapproving, and there was a depressingly large minority of England supporters at last year’s European Championships (“Euro 2020”) who kept booing when they saw the players taking the knee. In club games, the booing has largely stopped now around the country, but there were many furrowed brows and jeers for a while.

What was especially frustrating about this reaction was that some of the rationalisations among fans and the media for booing were so lame. Sure, I can understand those who felt that the gesture was likely to be ineffective, or that it was losing its power. That is difficult to assess, but would be plausible. Except that it is hardly a reason actually to boo at it. It is simply a reason not to join in with it.

Fighting racism triggers more pushback than racism itself

But more, there always seems to be less reaction from these people when they see racism than there is when they see attempts to combat it, and this is what makes the rationalisations sound very hollow.

Indeed, this follows a wider pattern, a common refrain we hear from the right when they object to anti-racist campaigning. Whatever the approach to the campaign, whatever the strategy, the right frequently complain that, “This is not the right way.”

Whatever the ‘right’ way of protesting might be, they leave undefined, and it seems not to matter how gentle, inoffensive, or unobtrusive the form of the protest, they still come back insisting it is not the right way. Kaepernick first invented Taking The Knee when the US National Anthem was played before National Football League games as an anti-racist protest, partly because other forms of protest black people in the USA tried, be it turning their backs, walking off, holding up signs or symbols, or making anti-racism hand gestures, were all severely criticised.

Look, stop telling everyone that this is not the right way to protest racism, and suggest a different way that *is* right

Such protests are a response to innocent black people being killed by police the world over, usually for no reason at all, and with little or no consequence for the killers. Such racist horrors always receive far less pushback from the same people.

It is impossible in that light not to conclude that there is no correct way to protest, and the real objection is the one that Reginald D Hunter keeps pointing to; the British privileged, white establishment is not uncomfortable at racism. It is uncomfortable at the appearance of racism and would feel far happier if the implications of it were not drawn to their attention. “Please let us just pretend to ourselves that the injustice isn’t happening,” they are saying, “because life feels so much easier when we don’t have to do anything about it.”

The Cup Final

All of which brings me around to the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Liverpool on Saturday evening, prior to which the traditional anthems of God Save The Queen and Abide With Me were performed. During all this rather tedious ceremony (which in truth most football fans would be happier to see left out of Cup Final Day anyway), a lot of the Liverpool supporters almost drowned out the music with a chorus of angry booing. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, also received some jeering as he was introduced to the players.

This Liverpool fan behaviour has again received a lot of pushback, from rival fans and from conservative elements in the press and politics. Particularly (and predictably) snotty criticism has come from the national haven for eighteenth century values, The Daily Mail.

How is this bloody awful rag still a thing?

In fairness, Liverpool fans seem largely to be luxuriating in the criticism, following the familiar logic that if the Mail is upset about it, it must be a good thing to do. But what is frustrating about the pushback is that it is full of accusation, and completely devoid of knowledge. Indeed it shows no interest in knowledge. One Tory MP, Karen Bradley, has actually demanded that Liverpool fans be ‘pursued’ and punished for it. On what charge? “Booing in a football stadium,” last I knew, was neither unusual nor illegal.

Given all the sleaze and criminal behaviour that dominates Parliament at the moment, perhaps Tory MPs should take a step back from criticising the ethics of others anyway. But it is noticeable that Bradley, and other MPs, show no interest in why it happened.

BoJob just has to give his ha’penny’s-worth

Boris Johnson, (somehow) British Prime Minister, issued a statement via a spokesman condemning the booing, and insisting there was no reason for it. Now, given the average behaviour of Tory MPs, including Johnson himself, in the House of Commons when Labour or SNP MPs are trying to speak, this condemnation is rich to the point of downright nauseating. But the contempt of it is unmistakable too. Johnson essentially just wants the behaviour condemned, and wants no interest to be taken in why Liverpool fans react to the UK Establishment and its customs in this way. Given he was the editor of the notorious 2004 Spectator article (NB: Not the author, as is widely assumed – that was Simon Heffer) that attacked the city of Liverpool entirely on the basis of stereotype, and ignorantly tried to blame Liverpool fan behaviour for the Hillsborough Disaster, perhaps we should be unsurprised.

But Johnson is not alone in this guilt. Supporters of rival clubs have also used the booing at the Cup Final as an excuse to throw insults at the city, again largely on the basis of stereotype. The sad irony of doing so, is that they demonstrate precisely why Liverpudlians are so averse to the Royal Family, and to the UK Establishment.

There is a conversation the British must have about Liverpool, and it is one that has been avoided with grotesque, victim-blaming dishonesty since at least the late-1970s, and surely now is as good a time as any to open it.

The conversation about Liverpool that Britain keeps side-stepping

Liverpool is one of England’s greatest cities. Beautiful in many areas, with a vibrant and inspiring atmosphere of culture and courage in equal measure. It is also one of the most reviled, mistreated, and unfairly-maligned cities in England. It is treated with shocking animosity, and no little cruelty, by people from all over the rest of the UK, especially the south-east of England.

Remarkably often though, I find that many of the people who regard Liverpool as hell-on-the-north-west-coast have never set foot in the place, or have not set foot there in decades, or have never ventured further north than a service station outside Derby.

Liverpool has undoubtedly been a very troubled city since the early-1980s. It has had serious problems in that time with drug abuse, social unrest, high unemployment, and failed local Government. But the public narrative of how these problems became so prominent has been to blame the city itself for them, as though it is an inevitable upshot of the ‘local character’. At no stage has the public debate addressed the historic reasons for Liverpool’s troubles. Liverpool was a mighty port at the height of the British Empire, and was among the richest cities in the world for as long as sail was the primary method of international freight movement.

After the Second World War, and especially from the late-1960s, air travel inevitably became the dominant form of freight movement, as it was so much faster. At the same time, the British Empire had collapsed within a generation, and Britain’s future orientation was now towards the European Union. Liverpool, with its north-west position and orientation, with Ireland in the way of many of its paths overseas, and with its mighty port and harbour facilities all suddenly obsolete, rapidly began to lose its purpose of being. It was no longer a key hub of Empire, but an oversized, out-of-the-way backwater on the very periphery of a vast continental trading bloc.

In many ways, the decline of the city, and the redundancy of most of its industrial infrastructure, was a reality that had to be faced. It could not carry on as it had been. But the approach of Margaret Thatcher’s Government was always one of monumental and unnecessary impatience. Any part of the country that failed to co-operate with Thatcher’s demands got hammered hard in one way or another, and Liverpool co-operated the least. Thus the city spent the 1980s being battered around by the Conservatives, with any resistance offered to the ‘Managed Decline’ (of Geoffrey Howe’s imagination) always being presented by a Tory-loving press as ‘Marxist revolutionary extremism.’ Now Marxists were present in Liverpool’s Labour Party in the 1980s, but anyone social-democrat or further left was being tarred with this brush. Riots in Toxteth were always reported in mindless, animalistic terms, with the reasons behind them always obscured behind a ‘Hollywood’ narrative of destructiveness.

Heysel & Hillsborough

This inevitably affected the football fanbase, which was so prominent in the city at a time when both Liverpool Football Club, and, to a lesser extent, Everton Football Club, were among the best sides in Europe. When Liverpool fans attacked Juventus supporters at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels in 1985, causing a stampede that led to a human crush that took the lives of 39 Italians, the hysterical media narrative that followed tried to paint the disaster as a deliberate mass-murder. (In truth, the fighting at Heysel was very minor, and the deaths happened as a result of a pile-up of people against a wall after they had run away.)

When the Hillsborough Disaster followed in 1989, the deadly human crush in Sheffield was again interpreted cynically and prejudicially by media through the lens of hooliganism, with great encouragement from a police force enacting a blame-shifting cover-up. But cover-up or not, what was impossible to miss was the almost rabid enthusiasm with which the British media leapt upon the invitation to kick the city when it was down, and to encourage cheap, irrelevant stereotypes about violent, short-tempered, Scouse drunkards.

To this day, many people, including fans of rival clubs, still try to pin the blame for Hillsborough onto the Liverpool fans. They do what barely passes for ‘supporting’ their case, partly with long-discredited accusations of poor fan behaviour, and partly with stereotype images of Liverpudlians, which they hope make it sound ‘implausible’ that fan behaviour might have been acceptable, or at least might have played no role in the tragedy.

Liverpool is a city bullied by England

The people who do this to Liverpool, who had done it with enormous thoroughness and cruelty for ten years, and continued to do it more intermittently for decades afterwards, were always their fellow Britons, and most particularly their fellow Englishmen. English people the nation-over always spoke throughout these times of Liverpool and its people in, often ignorant, disgust. They would encourage unfair notions of ‘The Scouser’ to justify having no sympathy for them over how the Government was ripping their city down.

Rather than Howe’s ‘Managed Decline,’ Liverpool was being hammered by constant financial cuts, and tens of thousands of its inhabitants who could not afford to move elsewhere were being abandoned to a future without industries or opportunity. Unemployment inevitably surged as the old dock industries were rapidly closed down and left to rot, and those who had lost their jobs, rather than being offered new industries as an alternative, were simply labelled “lazy” and left to fend for themselves in a neglected landscape of scarce money. Inevitably, crime surged and the council, starved of funds from central Government or from an impoverished population, was powerless to rebuild.

Instead of supporting them, instead of offering solidarity to their fellow countrymen, the loudest of the British, the noisiest of the English, disowned the people of Liverpool. They spoke of the people of Liverpool as though they were ashamed of them. They spoke of the people of Liverpool as though it was an embarrassment to think of them as either English or British at all.

People doing this doubtless felt more comfortable with the injustices being done if they were allowed just to believe the stereotypes were true, and therefore that the people of Merseyside deserved their fate.

“Please let us just pretend to ourselves that the injustice isn’t happening,” they were saying, “because life feels so much easier when we don’t have to do anything about it.”

Ah. Do I hear an echo?

Liverpool rejects Britain and England because it is forced to

Is it any wonder therefore, that so many people in Liverpool have come to reject their “Britishness,” that they have come to see their “Englishness,” as a badge of subjection, not of national pride? It is not just that Liverpool has strong links to the Irish (another people horrendously mistreated by England and Britain over long, long generations). That only offers an alternative allegiance, it hardly explains why Liverpool would need to adopt the modern saying, “Scouse, Not English.” What explains the rejection of Britain and England on Merseyside is that Britain and England act as a malicious enemy towards them. Why would Liverpudlians want to be either English or British, when the British, and most especially the English, express such hatred and contempt for them? Why have solidarity with a nation that sees you suffering and responds by poverty-shaming you for it? The rest of the UK looks like monsters to Liverpudlians, and why would they want to be monsters too?

And what epitomises that disgusting side of British culture, and its wilfully-ignorant contempt for the moneyless, more than that most British of phenomena; people who have money aplenty for no better reason than being born to a wealthy family? What could be more nauseating to hear than an anthem for such a nation that, in reality, merely demands subservience to that wealthy family, and ignores everyone ‘beneath’ that family entirely?

Sorry, gammons, but had I been at Wembley, I would have joined the chorus of booing as enthusiastically as anyone

Thanks to the modern scam of ‘Austerity,’ Liverpool has experienced the misery of the 1980s a second time over. That not only includes the horrors of foodbank-dependency, but also the same pattern of poverty-shaming by the rest of the country. In recent years, I have even seen people on the supposed left in the UK cheerfully throwing repugnantly down-the-nose terms like “bin-dippers” at Liverpudlians with unhesitating and unquestioning cruelty.

Liverpool’s position on the Establishment, on its national identity, on the rest of the country, is not just perfectly understandable. It is also right. The rigid snobbishness of British classism is something that should be rejected, and is the real trait to be treated with disgust. And the Royal Family – the very notion of Monarchy – embodies that classism. God Save The Queen is the rallying cry to come running to defend it. To defend what has spent over forty years attacking Liverpool.

The country owes Liverpool more apologies. A lot more

Ten years ago, then-Prime Minister David Cameron did just about the only decent thing of his entire life when he apologised on behalf of the country for the crimes committed against the Hillsborough survivors and families. That was a plus, but it was nowhere near enough. The Hillsborough cover-up was just one feature in a closely-connected series of crimes committed by the United Kingdom against the people of Liverpool, with literally tens of millions of Britons happily going along with it, right up to the present day.

The people of Liverpool do not wish to hear lectures about how ‘wonderful’ the Royals are. The Royals have enlarged their wealth during Austerity, they have protected Prince Andrew from the consequences of his depraved appetites and his abuse of the psychological power his status gives him, while millions up and down the country have been left poorer and more powerless than ever. Somehow this legalised crime of transferred wealth only has Britons angry for some of its victims. Why? Why do the crimes of the Royal Family cause less anger than the sound of people protesting them at all?

Why do so many Britons act like being pro-Royalty is a moral plus, especially after what this man has done?

Modern English patriotism is the wonder of the world, it really is. Why does it get so angry at non-loyalty to a talentless family of descendants of conquering invaders from France? Why does it assume loyalty to that family by medieval notions of birthright is more ethical than rejection of them? Why is it so happy for a city of half a million of its fellow countrymen to be impoverished and vilified?

Corruption needs wiping out, not protest

Until the British reject rationalisation-by-stereotype, and offer solidarity to all the people of the country who are in need, many of the people of Liverpool will reject association with either Britain or England. If the right wing do not want to hear the British Establishment being booed at, they have to end the contempt for those who would jeer. That is just more of the current Tory aggression against the human right to protest, and the ongoing Tory protection for the sleazy and corrupt. So maybe getting just as angry with Establishment corruption as they do with public demeanour would help too?