However, the words of some within the Conservative party, not least Boris Johnson rang more than a little hollow.
This, after all, is the same Boris Johnson who once wrote about the Queen being greeted by “flag-waving piccaninnies” in Commonwealth countries and how, in relation to Tony Blair, “tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British-taxpayer funded bird”.
More recently, Home Secretary Priti Patel has attacked the “gesture politics” of players ‘taking the knee’ for a moment before football matches in protest against racism and described booing by fans as “a choice for them”, rather than condemning it. Furthermore, Conservative MP Lee Anderson has been ‘boycotting’ the national team over the issue.
Following Sunday night’s game, Tory MP Natalie Elphicke mocked Marcus Rashford, who has campaigned effectively about food poverty and who missed a penalty, asking if it would be “ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics”.
This was more than ungenerous given he and other England players were being targeted by racists at the same time. Elphicke did not express racist views, but she joined a chorus of criticism that was full of it when she should have been standing shoulder to shoulder with him.
Presumably, Anderson and like-minded politicians agree with the anti-racism message of taking the knee, just dislike this particular tactic despite its inoffensive nature. The problem is they, even more than Elphicke, are joining a chorus of racists. And there are far too many of the latter, as was made clear by the social media reaction to elite athletes falling short of proving they are the best in Europe by the smallest possible margin.
No politician with any sense should be surprised that talking about “piccaninnies” and “watermelon smiles”, attacking anti-racism campaigns, and piling on the victims of racism can have real-world consequences.
The most serious is that it provides comfort and succour to racists; another is that it will make many voters draw away from a Conservative party that appears to be embracing its Nasty Party reputation.