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9 June 2021

First Thoughts: Holiday hubris, Frost’s history lesson, and how to play sport in multicultural Britain

Why can't Britons stay at home this summer instead of fretting over which countries are categorised green, amber or red?

By Peter Wilby

Instead of fretting over whether their holiday destinations are categorised green, amber or red, can’t Britons stay at home? They recently voted to leave the EU so that they can assert their proud British identity. Couldn’t they spend the summer learning more about the country over which they have taken back control? Apparently not. According to the Sunday Times columnist Camilla Long, an overseas holiday isn’t “frippery”. We go “because we need to, because life is stressful… because we crave the sun”.

My parents never went abroad in their entire lives. My wife still has cousins who’ve never left the country. Not until 1979 did Britons spend more on overseas holidays than on what are now called staycations. Even today, 17 per cent don’t have a current passport. In 2019, one in eight didn’t go on holiday anywhere.

[See also: Why can’t UK ministers be clear about foreign travel? Because they don’t agree]

People’s champion

“Rank incompetence” is how the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour describes the government’s handling of a back-bench revolt, in the week of the G7 summit in Cornwall, against cutting overseas aid. This may be a comforting verdict for the Guardian’s liberal audience. But it is, I fear, wrong. Two-thirds of British voters, including more than half of 2016’s Remain voters, support the cut in aid of around £4bn.

The Speaker Lindsay Hoyle blocked the rebels’ attempt to reverse the cut by amending an unrelated parliamentary bill, but also ordered ministers to allow a legitimate vote on the subject, playing into Boris Johnson’s hands. It keeps the issue bubbling nicely, with Johnson cast as the people’s lonely champion against liberal-minded MPs and pesky foreigners. Ministers could ignore the Speaker and rebels may then take legal action. Better still for Johnson. The last time he was taken to court (and lost), for proroguing parliament in autumn 2019, he called an election and won an 80-seat majority.

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Just as the New York Times persistently underestimated Donald Trump, its British press equivalent underestimates Trump’s British tribute act.


Market manipulation

David Frost, the Brexit minister, accuses the EU of “legal purism” in operating the Northern Ireland protocol. Frost has always struggled to understand the EU’s determination to protect its single market. Perhaps he should imagine a scenario in which Scotland left the UK but wanted access to the single market of England and Wales.

He doesn’t, in fact, need to imagine it. He can read 17th-century history and learn that, following the Union in 1603 of the Scottish and English crowns but not the two countries’ laws and political systems, English merchants in effect vetoed free trade to deny their Scottish rivals access to the American colonies.

After a century of economic decline and the collapse of an attempt to establish what you might call a “global Scotland” – in the form of a colony in Panama – the Scots joined a British trading union in 1707. The price? The loss of their own parliament for 292 years.


Just not cricket

The social media generation is unlucky in being called to account for youthful indiscretions; we older folk can bury ours. So sympathise by all means with Ollie Robinson, the England Test match debutant suspended for racist and sexist tweets he made as a teenager. But the punishment isn’t “over the top” as Boris Johnson and Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, claim.

English cricket has a problem with race. More than a third of ethnic minority professional cricketers say they have experienced racism in the game, according to a recent survey. Only one of the 18 first-class counties has a non-white head coach. Azeem Rafiq, a former Yorkshire player, says he felt an “outsider” in the club’s dressing room and considered suicide. Two former umpires have tried to seek damages from English cricket’s ruling body for alleged racial discrimination.

Such problems start with casual banter among young men. Coaches nurture a young cricketer’s skills from an early age. Perhaps Robinson’s fate will persuade them to devote time to developing attitudes appropriate to playing sport in a multicultural society. 

[See also: Moeen Ali’s journey to the margins shows English cricket still struggles with difference]

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This article appears in the 09 Jun 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Covid cover-up?