13th July 2021
Yesterday the England international and Aston Villa footballer Tyrone Mings posted this tweet:
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. https://t.co/fdTKHsxTB2
— Tyrone Mings (@OfficialTM_3) July 12, 2021
There is no equivocation: the express charge – that the home secretary is both stoking the fire of racism and a hypocrite – made by a senior and outstanding footballer is about as serious a thing that could be said by the one of the other.
That it is a quote tweet of the home secretary – and thereby both a direct response to and gloss of the minister’s tweet – makes it all the more striking.
Even without knowing anything more of the circumstances, it is a text of extraordinary power.
And at the time of posting this blog, the tweet had over 400,000 likes and 140,000 retweets/quote tweets – dwarfing the figures of the home secretary’s tweet.
It would appear our home secretary’s populism is not that popular.
Understanding the various contexts for Tyrone Mings’ tweet adds to and does not diminish its force.
But such is the power of the tweet the contexts are also worth considering.
One context is that this is the latest contribution from an individual with an open and long-standing interest in racial and social justice.
This is Tyrone Mings last year in Birmingham at the protests at the death of George Floyd:
Unlike politicians, for him this is no bandwagon.
Another context is that social media allows there to be a countering and opposite reaction to the vile populism of politicians and their media supporters.
This is the media context of the tweet.
As this blog set out yesterday, the fragmentation of political parties and of the media enable knavish and foolish politicians an extensive reach for their culture war politics.
But it is not all one way.
The populists can be confronted and exposed.
The challenge for those who care for social justice and liberalism is to counter and oppose the illiberal populists on a sustainable basis.
A further context is that Mings’ tweet undermines the attempts by the current government to evade responsibility for stoking the racism that manifested itself after England’s defeat – but is always present in our society.
This is the policy context of the tweet.
The government’s current ploy is to blame the social media companies with the threats, no doubt, of ‘tougher measures’ and perhaps even ‘crackdowns’.
But it is the ministers and their political and media supporters who derided as ‘gesture politics’ the direct moves by the footballers to show the watching supporters that racism was unacceptable.
Of course: social media companies need to take more responsibility – but they are conduits.
The footballers were instead confronting racism at its source – and government ministers mocked them for doing so.
Mings’ tweet exposed the emptiness and cynicism of the government’s political tactics.
Any powerful political utterance will work on a number of levels.
But sometimes, that a statement has force in a number of contexts is an implication of someone having the courage and presence to say the right thing at the right time to the right person.
The implications and the contexts then take care of themselves.
The populism of illiberal politicians rarely have the substance and the effects of statements such as Mings.
It is almost as if the populism of the home secretary and others in the cabinet is the true ‘gesture politics’.
And they should remember that those who start culture wars can also lose them.
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