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How Gary Lineker Became the British Left's Loudest Voice

As celebrities are ravaged by the press for voicing any opposition to the rising culture of xenophobia in the UK, the 'Match of the Day' presenter has carried on tweeting away regardless.

by Angus Harrison
01 December 2016, 12:36pm

Gary Lineker (Photo: David Davies PA Archive/PA Images)

Left-wing ideas are in crisis. Whether you define "left-wing ideas" as the centrist liberalism of Nick Clegg or the socialism of Jeremy Corbyn, it's hard to find anything east of total Tory with even the faintest hope of gaining popular traction in the UK; the Tories are polling at 44 percent, their highest rating since 1992, while Labour is trailing behind at 28 percent.

And it's not just happening here – this trend feels like a larger epoch. Bernie Sanders lost, then Hillary followed suit, and all across Europe far-right parties are dragging even the most tolerant technocrats into the mires of nationalism. Then, last week, Fidel Castro died.

We're not about to embark down the whole "was Castro a good bloke or not" debate – the debate you probably spent last weekend's after-party dribbling through with an MA student in a bedsit in Brighton – but it would be limiting not to appreciate the symbolic significance, at least. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Castro was the era-defining face of left-wing ideas in the Western sphere. With his passing, and the consolidation of the right, it's starting to look like the scales are tipping one way irreversibly.

Except, they're not – because a voice has emerged. Labour might be missing in action half the time, and the UK may have the most right-wing press in Europe, but one man is still bravely fighting the good fight.

RIP, Fidel Castro. Long live Gary Lineker.

In one of 2016's strangest twists, England football legend and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker has outed himself as both staunchly liberal and resolutely unafraid of making his views known. In a series of tweets across the past couple of months he has positioned himself as a rare voice of mainstream support for ideas that are increasingly become unfashionable to hold.

If we attempt to trace the lineage of Gary Lineker's political awakening – or at least the point at which he started taking it to Twitter – news points to the refugee crisis as the most obvious catalyst. Around the middle of October, he created something of a shit-storm, tweeting: "The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What's happening to our country?"

As you can imagine, the reception Lineker got for showing compassion towards those seeking asylum was less than warm, and he quickly became a piñata for every LEAVE twibbon-sporting bloke with a Kindle Fire. Not only that, but the newspapers turned on him, too, particularly for his decision to use a word as defamatory as "racist" to describe people being discriminatory about human rights eligibility based on ethnicity. Overnight, Gary Lineker went from being a national treasure to a "leftie luvvie" who needed to get the sack.

Yet, rather than let this backlash silence him, Comrade Gary made his newfound voice louder than it was before. He took down Trump! He took down Farage! He took down Trump and Farage! He took down Piers Morgan's apparent desire to go down on Trump! The bodying was coming thick and fast; before long, his TL looked like an abattoir, as he used the shards of broken Brexit promises to slash the heads off Pepe frogs, red flecks of blood spraying back into his little silver goatee like the Kool-Aid he refused to drink.

And the best part? There was no stopping him. Despite warnings from the BBC – and no doubt some stern phone calls from Brexiteer and Conservative Ian Botham – Lineker continued unfettered. "Getting a bit of a spanking today, but things could be worse: imagine, just for a second, being a refugee having to flee from your home," he said, before deliberately punting a ball straight through the glass of Michael Gove's greenhouse.

READ: Why the Press Want to Stop Celebrities Like Me Talking About the Migrant Crisis

On Tuesday, Lineker tweeted in response to Donald Trump's now infamous suggestion that burning the American flag should be a crime punishable by jail or loss of citizenship, simply saying: "It's soooo cold, I could burn a flag." It is in this tweet – this smirking, sassy tweet – that his transformation is complete. No longer Gary Salt-n-Lineker, the footballer, pundit and brother of an Ibizan club-owner. Rise, Gary Lineker the iconoclast, the fierce defender of morals and vigilante voice of forgotten liberal ideals, stood aloft the Twittersphere, waving a burning flag sky-high, shouting as he goes: "We will not be silenced. We will fight for what is right. Don't forget, you'll have to wait until midnight on Monday before you can watch Match of the Day 2."

Obviously we shouldn't really turn to television personalities for political guidance – America lol – but Gary's recent transition is more important than what might appear to be a bit of showboating – or "virtue signalling", as the alt-right kids are calling it these days. The conversational shift that has occurred across the past few years – but with alarming rapidity this year – has seen a redistribution of moral clout in steep favour of the right. Public figures are now far more reticent to express more centrist or liberal views, having been put off by the reception David Beckham's backing of Remain received, or the media attacks Lily Allen was subjected to after her visit to the Calais Jungle. In the new world order, if a celebrity speaks out in support of immigrants, or criticises Britain's decision to leave the EU, they are immediately branded out of touch and part of a super-rich metropolitan elite.

Gary Lineker stood to lose even more. It's one thing for someone like Eddie Izzard – a bilingual, transgender stand-up comedian who has built a career trading almost exclusively in socially liberal circles – to denounce Brexit, but Lineker's stage is very different. The European Union might have divided the nation, but football is a universal language that knows no class, race, age or educational background. As such, in making his views known he stood a much fairer chance of facing the wrath of at least 50 percent of his audience than, say, Eddie Redmayne would. And he has felt their wrath, regularly being called out for his personal wealth or, even more tenuously, his affiliation with Walkers crisps – cos crisps are bad for you, so, like, don't talk about liking Europe if you eat crisps.

The abuse won't end any time, but then it doesn't look like Lineker's spirit is anywhere close to breaking. Far from taking the easy route – and regardless of whether or not you agree with all of his opinions – he is currently swimming against the tide and keeping his head above water. Maybe it's all those years spent fielding "shat on" tweets, but from reading his words it is clear that Gary Lineker won't rest until until he has dragged his soiled shorts of justice across the green grass of Western nationalism, leaving a muddy pathway of faeces and renewed compassionate ideals in his wake. If that complicated and disturbing image doesn't give you hope in these confusing times, I don't know what will.

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