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Our Politicians As Usual Dont Understand It A Kind Inclusive England Is Stirring And They Dont Grasp It

I watched England’s Euro 2020 semi-final versus Denmark in another nation just over a fortnight ago.
I was in Wales at the time.
I grabbed my pre-booked seat in a Swansea hotel bar next to an English guest who appeared to have been sent by central casting.
There he was, “one of those blokes / The sort that only laughs at his own jokes,” as the great Billy Bragg sang, eating and drinking alone yet excitedly yelling at the large television screen even during the pre-match buildup.
He booed Denmark’s national song and used the C-word liberally about the country’s players, but then inexplicably vanished when England’s players took a knee.
After being ordered to pipe down by the (Welsh) bar staff, his performative belligerence deteriorated, and he soon left without paying his bill: an incarnation of Albion’s furious spirit, stuck as ever between self-pity and arrogant rage, and obviously reduced to watching the match in his lonely room.
This manner of Englishness has once again moved into infamy in the week or so since England’s climactic defeat by Italy, aided by the racist abuse of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, and Bukayo Saka by certain fans at the championship final.
The government’s and the rightwing press’s license to such prejudice has now vanished down the establishment’s memory hole, with Boris Johnson denying ever having implicitly allowed the booing of the England squad, and the Sun’s front page bearing the wonderful strapline, “Country unites against bigots.”
Nevertheless, as ludicrous as they are, these events have occurred as a result of this year’s most fascinating development: the unexpected entry into post-Brexit politics and culture of a collective cast of mind that is genuinely humane, inclusive, and kind – words that are not typically associated with 21st-century England, which is some indication of how startling recent developments have been.
The fact that the England team’s small actions of anti-racism protest have caused such a stir highlights both the persistence of racism and many people’s rejection of it.
But, once Gareth Southgate calmly pointed out that his players’ opposition to prejudice was part of a national story (he talked, after all, about “the polarisation we see in society” and the idea that “perceived tradition” should not come in the way of collective “introspection and growth”), he and his players inevitably became characters in a drama about the character of their country.
Clearly, he sensed that there was a need for a different type of Englishness than the one that dissolves into macho, intolerance, and nastiness on a regular basis – and now, as the aftershocks of Euro 2020 continue to vibrate, a sense of what that may mean is emerging.
The protests and tributes at the Marcus Rashford mural in south Manchester have given anti-racism a visceral symbolic strength, with echoes of the summer of 2020.
Formerly, England players and coaches who did not win were harshly criticised, insulted, and pulled to shreds; now, it appears that many of us are concerned about their mental health and wellbeing.
Rashford’s significance in events has ensured that poverty and deplorable official views toward children are part of the picture.
There are also aspects of the story that require far more attention than they have received.
Rashford, Saka, and Raheem Sterling, for example, are all devout Christians.
Their backstories are characterized by a strong work ethic, close familial relationships, and fierce allegiance to their hometowns.
They are far more intriguing figures than the “woke” culture-warrior stereotype that many Conservatives have linked to them, and the government’s ability to give the impression that it dislikes and misunderstands them and what they represent should give any halfway enlightened Conservative pause for thought.
None of us knows whether the apparent shift in England’s Euro 2020 story will last: after all, this is a country prone to massive emotional outbursts that often fizzle out.
Yet, this is a uniquely English moment, which should be understood as part of a larger drama that spans at least seven years.
The decision for Scottish independence in 2014 sparked debate over a topic that had lingered over England’s politics and culture for a long time.
The 2016 vote asked us all to consider what type of Britain we wanted to live in, and for many of us, such concerns were truly about the UK’s largest country: the Brexit side had an answer that resonated, while senior remainers were embarrassed to go near such territory.
The sensation of Brexiteers’ views of our past and future being so righteously disputed was one of the most riveting features of English Black Lives Matter marches last summer.
However, the epidemic continued: according to research, Covid-19 has caused three-quarters of people in the UK to “re-evaluate the most important areas of their lives,” so it’s not unexpected that many of us are applying the same reasoning to our collective situation.
Other elements exist that are not limited to national borders.
Despite the fact that social media behemoths have a lot of explaining to do when it comes to online hate, the internet has also spawned environments where diversity is the norm and the facts of human fragility and imperfection are freely revealed.
When I talk to people from generations younger than mine (I’m 51), I’m constantly struck by how comfortable they are with mental health and mutual care vocabulary – and, when they’re English, how different they are from the shouty, aggressive national stereotype.
In that and many other ways, reality has caught up with the kind of ridiculous stereotypes about England that have been allowed to run rampant for far too long.
Most of England isn’t Nigel Farage’s nation, with residual imperial dreams, thirdhand second-world-war nostalgia, and “get yourself together” – something that is often as true of so-called Brexitland as it is of the major English cities.
The football provided the pretext for this simple fact to be revealed.
As a result, both sides of Westminster politics appear to be drifting apart.
Ministers’ pitiful contortions on kneeling have been followed by actions that highlight their dark moral and political instincts: cuts to foreign aid and the casual easing of Covid limits, which appears to be based on a sadistic individualism.
Keir Starmer’s choice to use union jacks and retrogressive ideas of “belonging” to try to resurrect his party’s position now appears to be off the mark.
Meanwhile, the wider left continues to wrangle itself over the validity of “progressive patriotism” and the perils of nationalism, despite the fact that what happened this summer appears to be fairly simple.
Although the country in which 56 million of us reside is riddled with major socioeconomic issues, we now have the beginnings of a better narrative to tell about it.
One reason, however, why individuals like the man in Swansea appear so enraged is that England is not a lost cause.

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