For Dominic Raab, the right side of history is a bit like France. He’s vaguely aware of it, he’s just never been there

Even the Black Lives Matter protests are not spared his terrible, offensive jokes. ‘Take a knee? Only for the Queen and the missus, amirite lol?’

Tom Peck
Thursday 18 June 2020 18:32 BST
Dominic Raab says he would only take the knee for the Queen and 'the Mrs when I asked her to marry me'

It is not unfair to say that Dominic Raab is not the most diligent student of current affairs.

Having left it until late 2018 to become aware of the close proximity of the UK to France, a rather slow moving story which dates, at the very latest, to the formation of the supercontinental landmass of Pangea 335 million years ago, to then expect the foreign secretary to have even a passing knowledge of the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement would be to expect just a little too much.

Asked on TalkRadio if he would consider “taking a knee” in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, Raab gave a short, two-part answer, both of which warrant detailed analysis, which we shall take in turn.

Firstly, there was the abject refusal to ever countenance doing the thing that 44 Premier League footballers all did last night. “I take the knee for two people, the Queen and the missus when I asked her to marry me,” he said, before emitting a low level banal chuckle, a curious tick he has inherited, like the Brexit department, from David Davis.

Secondly, there was his “understanding” that the gesture had its origins in Game of Thrones. This is not quite the case. In 2017, you, me and anyone who takes even a vague enough interest in the world around them to know, say, where France is, knows that several NFL players, led by Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, began kneeling during the pre-game national anthem in protest at racially motivated police brutality.

It set forth a significant chain of events. The NFL became the centre of America’s culture war. Donald Trump tried to turn the row into a question of patriotism: that the superstar protesters, who had chosen a deliberately respectful symbol, were disrespecting America. In October 2017, the US vice president Mike Pence walked out of a 49ers game when the players took the knee. He had attended the match for no reason other than to walk out of it before it began.

Dominic Raab is the UK’s most senior diplomat. The US remains the UK’s most important ally. Raab was a cabinet minister throughout all of this protest action, and had somehow remained unaware of any of it.

You will also not need to be told that the taking of the knee has taken a rather different turn in the last few weeks. Now, what was once Kaepernick’s respectful protest has come to represent the knee that was pressed on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes. This has been quite the global news story. The sort of thing a foreign secretary might find himself reading about. Evidently Raab is still making his way through the Game of Thrones box set.

Then, of course, there’s the general belittling of the movement. Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling is one of 44 players who knelt in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement when the Premier League returned on Wednesday night. In the various post match interviews, Pep Guardiola said he was “ashamed of what white people have done to black people”.

There are reasons to be sceptical about the gesture itself. Modern football clubs are global brands, and have shown themselves in recent years to be remarkably proficient at touching gestures, but less so when it comes to enacting actual changes to deal with clear evidence of racism within their game. There is cynicism in embracing political movements, but it is also relevant that these aggressively self-interested entities have worked out which is the correct side to be on.

Enter, at this point, Dominic Raab, like a kind of Bernard Manning re-boot but with all the comic talent stripped out. “Take a knee? Only for the Queen and the missus, amirite lol?”

No, Raab, you’re not. There is a temptation to deliberate whether he can really be this dim, or this vicious, but there is no reason not to conclude the answer is both.

Mercifully and unsurprisingly, his run for the party leadership last summer barely made it beyond a brisk walk. The only moment that springs to mind was when he told ITV News that he was “probably not” a feminist, and then spent several days refusing to back down from them.

Feminism is a complex subject. To take but one of its issues, many men call themselves feminists, but can a man really be a feminist when he, by deduction, materially benefits from the opportunities that are routinely denied to women?

A thorny question, but what is less thorny is the fact that women comprise 50 per cent of the voters in the country, and a man who doesn’t even have the wit to pretend to be on their side may not get very far (as far as narrowly edging out Esther McVey then being eliminated, to be exact).

Is it Raab’s fault that he should find himself so consistently on the wrong side of history? The obvious conclusion is that it can hardly be put down to chance. To the casual observer, Raab wears his regression as a badge of pride but it might not be his fault. Perhaps the right side is like France. Sure, he’s vaguely heard of it, just never quite known how close it is.

There has, naturally, been a hastily issued clarification. “To be clear, I have full respect for the Black Lives Matter movement, and the issues driving them,” he has now said.

So that clears that up. Really it’s all the other politicians – which is to say every other politician in the country and indeed the wider world – that haven’t issued statements about their respect for the Black Lives Matter movement that should be worrying. Evidently they just don’t respect the movement as much as Dominic Raab.

We’re sure they’ll get round to it. Just the Battle of Winterfell to go and then the respect can really begin.

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