“Deep Woke”, football, inclusive solidarity – and constitutionalism

8 July 2021

In the last week we have been introduced to the phrase ‘deep woke’.

It was used by my Financial Times colleague Gideon Rachman as an expression to describe the governing party’s disdain to this welcome and inclusive article by Gareth Southgate.


A deep wookie.



Southgate’s articulation of solidarity is everything that the facile populist nationalism of the current government and its supporters is not.

No wonder they have a phrase to deride it.

The practical approach of Southgate was set out in this detailed and insightful piece at The Athletic site (which is strongly recommended for its journalism-led content – and so subscribe to it rather than complaining about the paywall):

Reading Kay’s account of organisational change and inclusive solidarity, I was struck by its potential implications in respect of constitutionalism and political behaviour.


One of the problems in the current politics of the United Kingdom is the hyper-partisan disregard for constitutional principles and practices that mean politicians of different views can work together.

The prime minister Boris Johnson and his former assistant Dominic Cummings, and their supporters, have promoted the weaponisation of constitutional matters – from misleading the Queen to attacking the judiciary and ignoring the house of commons.

In these toxic Bannon-ite circumstances, the solution is not a written (that is, codified) constitution – for the knaves would just seek to game that too.

The problem is not formal – still less legalistic – but cultural.

There is not a sense of constitutionalism in the government – the understanding that there are political norms and practices higher than party advantage.

Instead, we have childish glee as a government-supporting politician finds a new confrontation to force or contrives a culture war to stoke.

It does not have to be this way.

And it is strange that it takes footballers to point this out – not only the mature inclusivity of Southgate but also, for example, the thoughtful kindness of figures such as Marcus Rashford and Jordan Henderson, among others.


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28 thoughts on ““Deep Woke”, football, inclusive solidarity – and constitutionalism”

  1. I have had the pleasure of listening to Michael Heseltine speak live on two separate occasions.

    The first was a double act with Andrew Adonis, making the case for a directly elected mayor for Birmingham during a referendum campaign.

    Incidentally, the two rival campaigns in the referendum were cross party.

    Heseltine took us back to the days immediately following the Toxteth Riots in Liverpool in 1981 when he was out and about on the ground in the city.

    He praised the work of the various public services and as he went around, he asked every worker he came across the same question, who is co-ordinating your work?

    Invariably, it was the worker’s line management, but that meant Heseltine asserted that the sum of the parts was not greater than the whole. That effort, time and resources were being wasted, because there was no cross organisation co-ordination. That did not mean that there was no co-operation, but that in some cases folk unintentionally were working against each other.

    Effective co-ordination from the centre would make better use of the people working their socks off trying to put things right.

    That arch Conservative, Tarzan complimented public sector workers and said they were doing their best, but that they might have done better if managed in a different way.

    Obviously, he was making the case for a directly elected mayor.

    When anyone since has asked me why, with my politics, I respect at least some of Lord Heseltine’s views, I mention that example.

    I believe someone once said, rather cynically, that the Whigs and the Tories were like two rival stagecoaches in a race, splashing each other with mud, en route to the same destination.

    I think it has been reasonable to say that the mainstream of politics in the UK until recently has mostly been about sharing the same goals, but disagreeing about how to achieve them.

    The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015 started the rot.

    Lord Heseltine was made a Freeman of the City of Liverpool in 2012 for championing Liverpool’s cause after 1981. The renaissance of the city started with the transformation of the Albert Dock and the International Garden Festival which he was largely responsible for bringing about as Minister for Merseyside. He then played an important role in the regeneration of Liverpool over the succeeding three decades.

    The pre-Corbyn Labour Party in Liverpool made him a Freeman.

    Corbyn supporters in the Liverpool Labour Party in 2017 put out an election leaflet with a picture of the Albert Dock before renovation and the 1981 riots. The headline being “The Tories don’t understand us … They never have”.

    The alleged rationale for the leaflet was that Labour were polling so badly that they had to appeal to their core vote by attacking the Tories.

    A Labour Councillor called Munby argued that the picture of the Albert Dock “pre-Heseltine” highlighted “the one good thing the Tories have done for Liverpool and shows that it’s the people who designed the leaflet, not the Tories who don’t understand Liverpool.”

    Were those behind the leaflet unaware of Liverpool’s past or just incapable of believing that a One Nation Conservative, a Minister in Thatcher’s Government and a Labour Council would work together in the interests of the people of the city?

    One longs for the return of days of such conundrums.

    “Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”

    From President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Inaugural Address.

    Oh, we lost the referendum campaign for a directly elected Mayor for Birmingham and got a Mayor for the West Midlands County foisted on us, instead.

  2. “One of the problems in the current politics of the United Kingdom is the hyper-partisan disregard for constitutional principles and practices that mean politicians of different views can work together….”

    A valid point.

    An inflexion point came in 2016 with the Brexit ‘leave’ outcome ( much to the mainstream establishment inc the politicians , legacy media and big business).

    Matters took a considerable turn for the worse, following May’s ill fated general election of 2017 leading up to the ‘rogue’ Eu-phile Parliament until Boris Johnson called and delivered the 2019 general election outcome.

    My acceptance of your valid point is not that the conservatives won the 2019 election ( or Corbyn ..who he lost it) it’s much more to do with the failure of the uk constitution that had 75% remainer MPs invigilated by a pro EU Speaker who broke just about every constitutional convention that existed.

    Essentially Brexit broke the unwritten constitution whereby representative demos itself failed the most sovereign thing a state has – its demos or people.

    It was Tony Blair who once said a referendum gives people the opportunity to MPs for a day – the people spoke and neither Parliament or the wider establishment liked what they got on 23rd June 2016.

    The bigger question in my mind – how to we fix a broken constitution going forward. Answers on a post card.

    1. a pro EU Speaker who broke just about every constitutional convention that existed.

      That’s a matter for debate – what I saw was a man doing his job properly, in the face of outright – and disingenuous – hostility from the chancers he was attempting to rein in.

      It’s a convenient and one-sided narrative that he “broke the rules”: it is just as easy (and in my view far closer to the truth) to say that he simply used his – more accurately, Parliament’s – authority over the government, more robustly than his predecessors had.

      It is perhaps significant that moves against Bercow – like the Government’s attempt to pass a motion requiring him to be re-elected by secret ballot in an effort to replace him – failed…

      1. Anne Perkins ( Jan 2019) of The Guardian ( no less 😚) made this interesting comment.

        “Everyone who is fighting to reverse the decision to leave the EU because it is a wanton act of self-harm has a parallel duty, to ensure that it is done in a way that promotes rather than undermines democracy. Brexit is already doing terrible damage, and it’s not all on one side. The Speaker should be very careful of doing anything to make it worse….”

        Essentially, we had a pro EU Speaker who tried, unsuccessfully whilst in office to prevent any form of Brexit, that he himself didn’t like. All this under the countdown of Article 50 two year clock with EC Council additions .

        My overarching more strategic point still stands – Brexit ( both the event on 31 Jan 2020) and now the process of living with it as in, ongoing, gives the UK a chance to redefine /reset/ upgrade to a codified constitution mote fit for a modern 21st century sovereign nation state – what better way to express our new found freedom to the benefit of all our citizens.

        1. Essentially, we had a pro EU Speaker who tried, unsuccessfully whilst in office to prevent any form of Brexit, that he himself didn’t like.

          He did no such thing, John – it’s simply not within the Speaker’s gift to do anything even remotely resembling such an act.

          All he did was try (not always successfully) to ensure that the government of the day gave Parliament the respect to which it was entitled – that some on the Right, and in the Brexiteer camp, should choose to characterise those efforts as a Remainer trying to interfere with “The Will Of The People” is frankly risible, though entirely predictable.

          1. Tell Anne of The Guardian – I’m only the messenger – truthfully, a no. of informed folks knew of Bercow’s predilections.

            As the old saying goes – “it’s hard to fool all the people, all of the time” – that was Bercow’s sin, about which a number of historian’s will write.

            I don’t wish the guy ill – up till Brexit , he’d done a good job – that he effectively got caught with his fingers in-the-till ( constitutional impropriety including bullying) is up for discussion..

    2. Never hold another referendum in the UK in which a serious complex issue with generational impact is reduced to a binary choice, resulting in a narrow majority for change, would be a good place to start.

      Many, of course, had assumed that it was an advisory not a mandatory referendum in which they were participating. It was ironic that Cameron, who chose to tell the voters during the campaign that Parliament would act on the vote rather than take it into account, cut and ran when the result was known.

      One might say that from the moment that Cameron made that pledge he set the tone for the years, if not decades, to come.

      The referendum result gave MPs a mandate to leave, but that is all it did. It did not, for example, deny them the opportunity to put any draft exit agreement to another vote of the people.

      In fact, Rees-Mogg in 2011 had said we might have two referendums. That it would make sense to have the second referendum after the renegotiation was completed.

      Farage spoke in January 2018 about holding a second referendum.

      David “If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy” Davis said in 2002 that, “We should not ask people to vote on a blank sheet of paper and tell them to trust us to fill in the details afterwards.”

      Most damning of all from the perspective of good governance and people retaining faith in democracy, the Leave Campaign made promises, that many of those at the heart of it knew they would not be able to honour if they won, but clearly many of them never expected to win.

      Some folk have since admitted, belatedly, that they did not, for example, understand the significance of the Good Friday Agreement and how maintaining it would inter-act with Brexit.

      The Leave Campaign told voters they might have their cake and eat it. Johnson was still doing so in the Sunday Telegraph on the weekend following the poll.

      By January 2019, Boris Johnson was saying that a No Deal Brexit is closest to what people actually voted for …

      When the man who fronted the campaign does not know what is was all about, what the point of it was then what hope for us or the rest of the world?

      We had until this botched referendum, a common understanding that we lived in a Parliamentary democracy wherein Members of Parliament were not just delegates of those who voted for them in their constituencies (or in the case of Brexit, just those who voted Leave in their seats, whether or not they had voted for the MP returned to Parliament), but were the representatives of all those living within their constituencies.

      The were three groups in the electorate of 2016, those who voted Leave, Remain or who absented themselves. And MPs do not govern in the moment. We expect them to be mindful of our future.

      “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion … Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.”

      Edmund Burke’s Speech to the Electors of Bristol, 3rd November, 1774.

      Tony Benn, himself an MP for a Bristol seat for 33 years took a diametric view of the role of an MP.

      “The first duty of a member of Parliament is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgement is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain. His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate. Burke’s famous declaration on this subject is well known. It is only in the third place that his duty to party organisation or programme takes rank. All these three loyalties should be observed, but there in no doubt of the order in which they stand under any healthy manifestation of democracy.”

      Sir Winston Churchill on the Duties of a Member of Parliament.

      To adapt a very apt Sir Humphrey quotation, if we are going to do this damn silly thing, Brexit, do not let us do it in this damn silly way was not an unreasonable position for the deliberative assembly of our nation to adopt after the 2017 General Election.

      It is, after all, a feature of our brand of democracy that one Parliament may not bind the hands of the next.

      Ditto, a referendum or else why did we have one in 2016 when we had already had one in 1975?

      However, we are where we are.

      In 2021, the UK is becoming seen as ever more untrustworthy on the world stage and of less consequence, too.

      Our economy is contracting.

      The demographic time bomb has exploded.

      Disgusted of the Royal Borough of Tunbridge Wells is not even having her bins emptied on time.

      And Nissan has just persuaded Johnson, to much acclaim in the media, to write them a blank cheque for an essential investment. To tart up and expand an existing battery plant, hard by their factory in Sunderland, that they already own.

      A battery plant in which Nissan has already sold an 80% stake to Envision, a company ultimately owned by the Chinese Communist Party.

      Oh, and that blank cheque is not buying one net new job in Nissan (and probably not one in the supply chain, either).

      For someone who throughout his life has been a bullshitter’s bullshitter, Boris Johnson sure has a very poor nose for detecting other bullshitters whether they hail from home or abroad.

      Ordinarily, removing an individual from the highest office of the land in our democracy does not automatically presage a reset in how we govern ourselves.

      Johnson’s departure might just be the exception to that rule.

      And it really cannot come too soon for our politics, our society and our economy.

      1. In order to keep sufficiently on topic, I’m minded of the words ” acceptance really is part of the grievance process”.

        1. Try telling that to people who have lost contracts, jobs, businesses, homes … to a Hard Brexit.

          In particular, to folk like the poster boys and girls of the fishing industry, who have learnt since January of this year that your new found freedom, whatever is meant by that, means the end of much of their industry.

          Imagine being someone taken in by Johnson, who not only discovers that he had lied to them to advance his political career, but in the process he has destroyed their business for which they have shed blood, sweat and tears over decades.

          And in taking back that which we had not lost, Johnson is hell bent on undermining the devolved administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

          Hardly an act designed to move on from Brexit and unify the UK.

    3. To repeat a forgotten but key point, the election was only advisory. That the dunce Cameron had not thought at least of credible options or a consultation process to proceed from a leave vote is what threw us into chaos. The strength of argument, grandstanding and above all the apparent acceptance of the lies by the electorate are what led to the Remain side finally conceding that they lost.

      And personally, i have not accepted it. I am aye bilin’. Yon Sassenach knaves have stolen my country

  3. Culturally we need to stop seeing the role of King (and ‘Royal Court’) as at all acceptable; for that is how Johnson fancies and conducts himself. I suspect that a major, authentic slimming down of the monarchy would go some way towards this, alongside improved state benefits, salaries, working and living conditions. If we’re not being kept down, we’re less likely to doff caps upwards to those who’d misgovern and exploit us.

  4. Gareth Southgate comes across as thoughtful, considerate and, above all, genuine. No wonder senior tories are rattled.

    I know the square root of zero about football and I’m sure that everyone has already seen this footage –


    I don’t even know who Mason Mount is but that gesture does suggest that Southgate’s team are listening to him or, better yet, he is listening to them and reflects their values.

    Perhaps things aren’t as bleak as some of us thought.

  5. Thank you Mr Green. I have to say this did strike me quite strongly today – how did we come to the position where footballers and football managers can and do show true leadership, while the politicians do not. It was a point that struck me a few years ago when I was in an airport in Europe. There was a club youth team boarding the flight also – I think it was Chelsea, but I couldn’t swear to it. A very high percentage of the boys were people of colour. And it struck me then that football is a true meritocracy. The football clubs don’t care where you come from, how you speak, even in high-pitched Brummie, or what the colour of your skin is. And the peopel who reach the summit will be the Southgates, the Rashfords and the Sterlings. By contrast politics is approaching the death throes of the Eton/Oxford (with a poisonous smidgen of Dulwich thrown in) oligopoly of white public school entitlement, controlled by a tiny clique who are prepared to abase themselves before the foul, stinking altars of Murdoch, Dacre and the Barclays. It is difficult not to picture the porcine, gross silhouette of the Prime Minister greedily rolling around in this sink of mire. I should use a more Anglo-Saxon, direct expression but I don’t think it would get through your editorial policy. The meritocracy is breaking through in politics also, witness Sunak, Javid and Khan, but the porcine one can still smell weakness and abasement as well in people of colour as from his own ever diminishing band of Bullingdon bullies. Come on England!

  6. Yes, we can and should learn from the team.
    But not from the boorish brit ‘fans’ who boo opponents national anthems, jeer at crying children and seek to ‘blind’ a goal keeper.
    A significant minority are a disgrace. As for the hysteria … madness.
    Whatever happened to ‘playing the game’ and behaving like gentlemen? England has become a nation of loosers.

  7. But is it only cultural?

    I would argue that both the archaic voting system that encourages division rather than consensus, and the fact that the UK’s nations and regions are massively under-represented in the UK’s centralised political system, are factors that are turning your point on the cultural issues into something that cannot be easily resolved.

    The Brexit referendum has been the catalyst for a change that has implemented the hyper-partisanship of Brexit, and with it a complete disregard of the national interest, as this would normally provide a corrective baseline that could broadly be shared by a large majority, with largely overlapping definitions of it, regardless of political preferences.

    It is clear that a large percentage of people would be attracted by parties advocating realistic centre-ground politics based on traditional values. In a multi-party system it would be unthinkable for Johnson to be able to form a coalition with the majority like he has now based on his current policies. That would be less exciting and rather boring, but surely for the better. On the other hand the reality of the two-party system prevents the centre of politics to regain power and without active cooperation from Labour it is doubtful whether the current situation can ever be resolved.

  8. English football is unmistakably English, so it can’t hide behind ‘Great British’ humbug, nor behind England-denying euphemisms like ‘the nation’, ‘our country’, ‘Britain’ (if used when England is clearly meant).

    It’s also strongly urban, working-class and increasingly multicultural, so it can’t hide behind sentimental English pastoral, either.

    It has a grim history of violence, racism and xenophobia among many of its supporters – though it has done much to address this – so it can’t hide behind a myth of a righteous nation to which everyone else owes a debt of gratitude. The England team may, however, be able to offer an accessible model of how we can recognise past and present wrongs and begin to address them. The English and German teams taking the anti-racist knee together before their match was certainly a very powerful image.

    The England team hasn’t been especially successful in recent decades, but still has hopes, and that, as Sunder Katwala has suggested, might be a helpful metaphor for coming to terms with being a middle-ranking power and no longer ruling the waves.

    So (and I am no footie fan), just maybe the England football team can point a way for us – the English among us, at least – out of our dire political-cultural-constitutional predicament. But they can’t be expected to do all the heavy lifting. Other public figures and bodies need to come forward and ‘speak for England’ in a mature, responsible and inclusive way, too.

  9. There is a chance that the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles trophy may be coming home this weekend.

    That does not mean tennis would be returning to its real home, Birmingham where we have the original Wimbledon trophy, Maud Watson’s for our own annual WTA competition.

    We are modest folk here in Birmingham.

    We just gave tennis to the world.

  10. Sorry to repeat, but this is roughly how the Republic of Rome failed: lack of respect for the procedures of govt & the common cause by greedy & wealthy individuals. They then bought votes and followers with bread & circuses.
    That we have been here at least once before obliges us to wonder if this is as far as the human race can go in developing civilization. Look upon these Strange Days as a test. Maybe there are just not enough of the electorates sufficiently grown up to resist the rot, so we can go no further. If so, either WW III and wipeout or a 1984/ Bladerunner future awaits us.

    1. Just over 200 years ago in Britain, one might be hung for impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner and it was the same if you stole a sheep or a lamb.

      Then juries decided such penalties were disproportionate and found innocent many who were clearly guilty.

      The law fell into disrepute, prompting its reform and, in particular reducing the number of offences that attracted the death penalty.

      One wonders how many juries will be happy to find respectable, middle aged, if not elderly, middle class folk, both guilty of making a bit of noise outside of the House of Commons and then sending them down for a ten year stretch?

      The public has, by and large, a keen sense of justice.

  11. I subscribed to the Athletic to read the full article and I’m glad I did.
    A good friend is a West Ham season ticket holder (some people are born masochists).
    He longs for the days of Moore, Peters, Hurst, though he is too young to remember them. Arsenal are OK but Spurs are beyond the pale. He will of course be supporting England as will I though I hope the fans behave.
    It seems to me that many of the comments that have flowed from the posting have either not read the article or have strayed well beyond the points that DAG makes.

  12. I never met many South Africans until I went to live in Australia for a couple of years. In terms of international football tournament chronology it was around the time of the World Cup in Italy.

    The South Africans I met – similar to me in age, interest in sports, etc – spoke about the impact the sports boycott had. For a sports mad nation it was a signal that they needed to do something about apartheid.

    I don’t think sportspeople have any particular insight that means that we should value their views above others. But…

    When prominent sports people are voicing concerns about political matters it (seems to me that it) is a signal that the legislative body of a country is not working. And not merely not working and not fit for purpose, it is deeply unhealthy.

    I think this is relevant for South Africa apartheid, Colin Kaepernick’s America, Gareth Southgate’s United Kingdom.

    Perhaps an idea for a future post..?

    1. Very good points. My experience of South Africans too. A friend plays for a volleyball team called all nations. That’s all African nations and all ages and they’re pretty good

  13. Can someone define “Deep Woke” for me please, and explain how it is differs from the regular form of “Woke”. It is clearly intended to be abusive or pejorative, but is it seems to mean “very aware”.

    As if somehow the England team manager might do a better job it he was a bit less culturally and emotionally intelligent and a bit more stupid and thoughtless, like a nameless Tory strategist.

    Is there such a thing as “Shallow Woke”? And is the opposite “Deep Ignorance”?

    1. “Deep Woke” is probably related to the deep of “Deep State” rather than an antonym of shallow.

      Many right-wingers dismiss BLM as not being the genuine view of black people. What these right-wingers say is that it is white liberals who are manipulating black people on the questions of race and policing in America. Furthermore, right-wing Americans are told that these white liberals are socialists/communists.

      These crazy ideas are very much in the UK. Not hard to understand why when there are articles in The Times warning how people are being forced to use “woke language”. There is an appetite for woke-scares in the UK and there is a party which is motivated to use that politically.

      1. Hmm. Maybe Gareth’s Southgate is an unwitting tool of a secret network of power, parallel to and independent of the country’s political leadership, pursuing a “Woke” agenda for its own nefarious purposes. Or perhaps he is just a nice and thoughtful bloke. Difficult.

  14. Having just read that beautiful article by Gareth Southgate, I’m quite astounded that anyone could be offended by it.

    I’d be the first agree that the woke movement has gone way too far in terms of curtailing freedom of speech in universities, the disgraceful cancel culture and dragging companies into politics.

    On the other hand, it should not be controversial to be in favor of racial justice and equality (while conservatives may favor equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome).

  15. “In these toxic Bannon-ite circumstances, the solution is not a written (that is, codified) constitution – for the knaves would just seek to game that too.”

    David, I think you’re conflating sufficiency and necessity. It’s more difficult (though not impossible) to game clearly laid out laws, supported by clear enforcement mechanisms. The economic metaphor that comes to mind is that the allocation of property rights is necessary (though not sufficient) to achieve efficient outcomes through decentralised markets.

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