Tories must change attitudes towards taking the knee, says ex-minister

The Conservatives need to change their attitudes towards people taking the knee, a former minister has said, amid the continuing fallout from the racist abuse of England’s black footballers.

Steve Baker said the controversy which erupted after the Euro 2020 final at Wembley should serve as a “wake-up call” to the party over how it is seen in the rest of the country.

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were subjected to a torrent racist abuse on social media after they failed to score in the penalty shoot-out against Italy on Sunday.

Steve Baker
Steve Baker said Tories need to ‘get alongside’ footballers who take the knee (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

That in turn prompted an outpouring of support for the trio, with hundreds of fans gathering to leave messages at a mural of Rashford in Manchester after it was defaced by vandals.

Meanwhile, England player Tyrone Mings accused Home Secretary Priti Patel of having stoked the fires of racism when she previously dismissed the team’s action of taking the knee at the start of matches as “gesture politics”.

Mr Baker drew back from criticising Ms Patel but warned that Tories need to consider how their words are received when they address such issues.

“It is a wake-up call to the Conservative Party of just how powerful our words are when we navigate these issues,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

England players take the knee
England players take the knee before the Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We have to get alongside those players who are taking the knee and understand they are not saying defund the police, they are not anti-capitalist. What they are doing is saying ‘We suffer racism’.

“What I am saying to my colleagues is that we have to confront the reality of how we are sometimes heard, even by people on our own side.”

His comments came after another Conservative former minister, Johnny Mercer, said he thinks Mings is “completely right”.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted the Government is firmly committed to opposing racism.

“We are absolutely united as a Government – and I hope as a country as well – in booting out racism. We abhor it,” he told Sky News.

Home Secretary Priti Patel
Home Secretary Priti Patel accused players of ‘gesture politics’ (Victoria Jones/PA)

“As a Cabinet, we are more ethnically diverse, I think, than any in history. I think we are more representative of the country in that regard. It is a good thing.”

He defended Ms Patel, saying he thinks the comments which have been made about her are “odd”.

“Priti Patel has spoken very movingly in the House of Commons about her own experience and suffering from racism,” he said.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson held talks with social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, amid criticism that they are failing to deal with online racist abuse directed at players.

The meeting came as Labour called for the courts to be given new powers to ban anyone convicted of online racist abuse from football matches.

The party said ministers should use the forthcoming Online Safety Bill to extend football banning orders to cover online offences as well.

Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said: “The racists who have been abusing England players online should be banned from football grounds. They do not deserve to be anywhere near a game of football.

“We need urgent action to tackle online abuse but the reality is that the Government’s Online Safety Bill will not stop racist abuse online.”