John Harris

Journalist & Author

A kind, inclusive England is stirring – and as usual, our politicians don’t get it | John Harris

The aftermath of Euro 2020 shows there’s a better story to be told about a country too often defined by Brexit

Just under a fortnight ago, I watched England’s Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark in another country. I was in Wales. In the bar of a Swansea hotel, I took my pre-booked place next to an English guest apparently sent by central casting. There he was: as the great Billy Bragg sang, “one of those blokes / The sort who only laughs at his own jokes”, eating and drinking on his own but frantically yelling at the giant television screen even during the pre-match buildup. He booed Denmark’s national anthem and liberally used the C-word about the players in its team – but then mysteriously disappeared when England’s players took a knee. Once he returned, his performative belligerence worsened after he was asked to pipe down by the (Welsh) bar staff, and he soon left without paying his bill: an embodiment of the irate spirit of Albion, caught as ever between self-pity and arrogant fury, and apparently reduced to watching the match in his lonely room.

In the week or so since England’s climactic defeat by Italy, this mode of Englishness has once again passed into infamy, sped on its way by the behaviour of some fans at the championship final and the subsequent racist abuse of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka. The licence given to such bigotry by both the government and the rightwing press has now disappeared into the establishment memory hole – Boris Johnson denying having ever implicitly excused the booing of the England team, the Sun topping its front page with the priceless strapline, “Nation unites against racists”. But as absurd as they are, these things have happened because of this year’s most fascinating development: the unexpected entry into post-Brexit politics and culture of a collective cast of mind that is profoundly humane, inclusive and kind – not the kind of adjectives usually associated with 21st-century England, which is some token of how striking recent developments have been.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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