Credit: BBC

Why the Lineker row is about cultural power, not free speech

Lost in the row about whether Gary Lineker should have been permitted to present “match of the day” as normal on Saturday Night has been any real discussion of what he said to start the row in the first place.

The United Kingdom currently has a significant problem whereby many migrants, desperately fleeing France, are crossing the English channel in small boats in order to make it to the UK. It is universally agreed – on right and left – that this is undesirable. Taking to sea in a rubber dinghy risks a tragedy, and several people have already lost their lives. This is where the agreement ends.

How do you stop people attempting to cross the channel in small boats? Well, there are two schools of thought – an obviously incorrect one, and the one adopted by the UK Government, which may or may not be correct.

The obviously incorrect school of thought is the one favoured by Gary Lineker and, it seems, most of the chattering classes: You welcome these people in, give them sanctuary, and treat them with compassion, no questions asked.

The problem with this approach, usually lost in the billowing plumes of self-regard that emanate from those who advocate it, that it amounts to an advertisement for crossing the channel in small rubber boats. If you want more people to drown in the English channel, then promise them the promised land if they make it across.

The UK Government, by contrast, has decided to discourage such crossings: If you do make it to the UK, they say, then not only will you never be granted residency here, but we will send you right back: You are risking your life for no benefit. If you want to discourage people from risking their lives in rubber boats, then this seems to be to be a better policy than the one preferred by Gary Lineker, et al. It may work, or it may not work, but one can at least see the logic behind it if the aim is – as we hope it should be – to stop people risking their lives in the English Channel.

We could debate this, in a civilised society: But debate it is not what Gary Lineker did. He just resorted to the favourite comparison of every bore – this policy sure does sound a lot like nazi Germany!

For starters, he is simply wrong: Nazi Germany did not deport people it did not wish to have in the country – it put them in camps and killed them. Nazi Germany was also – in the pre-war days – obsessed with domestic dissidents and threats. The people coming on small boats to the UK are not UK citizens, and are explicitly seeking to break UK law. Lineker’s argument amounts to the claim that any country which seeks to police its borders is aping Hitler – something that might be news to the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, all of whom are English speaking countries which already adopt a similar approach to illegal migrants.

That brings us neatly to the panic about free speech. And no, Gary Lineker is not being “silenced” – at least, not according to the standards for “silencing” that have been adopted universally by progressives and liberals in recent years.

Lineker is paid an objectively extraordinary amount of money to talk about football. He is very good at talking about football. And yet it would be universally agreed that he would be unable to talk about football if he were to make statements that alienated large portions of his liberal-leaning audience. If he had, for example, expressed political opposition to gay marriage, or said that transgender women were really men, we would presently be in the middle of a row with progressive views on whether he should still be presenting Match of the Day entirely reversed.

Do you think for a moment, if he said either of those things, that those calling for the BBC to defend his right to free expression would hold the same position? If you do, wake up.

For the record, the opinion polling thus far done on the UK Government’s small boat policy shows that it has approximately two-to-one support amongst the public – not far off the support for gay marriage. Lineker is apparently free to express a minority view and insult 2/3rds of the public on one of those issues, but not on another.

Once again, it is readily obvious that this is not about free speech, but naked progressive cultural power: We can say what we want, but people who differ from us cannot. Brendan O’Neill put it rather well, I thought:

What’s really going on in the online Lineker love-in is not a fight for free speech, but a fight by the correct-thinking liberal elites to further turn the BBC into their political plaything, to complete its transformation into an outlet for their beliefs and their beliefs only. Their cringe-inducing cheerleading for Lineker, and for Maitlis before him, has nothing to do with the great old cause of defending the liberty to utter, and everything to do with colonising the Beeb so that it becomes little more than a mouthpiece of the right-on middle classes. This isn’t a fight for free speech – it’s a moral coup by noisy political influencers determined to turn everything, even the public broadcaster, into a platform for political preening.

This is it entirely: It is not that people like Lineker should be able to say what they want without consequence. It’s that they should be allowed to call right wingers “nazis” without consequence. That’s the moral issue at stake here, and it’s not one millimeter broader than that.

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