Ann Widdecombe and Owen Jones quarrel after former MP calls taking the knee a ‘pointless gesture’


Jeremy Vine was forced to quickly change the topic of discussion on his Channel 5 chat show this morning after a showdown between guests Ann Widdecombe and Owen Jones on the subject of footballers taking the knee.

The debate was introduced by Vine as he showed viewers a disturbing video recording of a fight that broke out between police and Hungarian football fans at last night’s England vs Hungary World Cup Qualifier.

A Hungarian spectator had reportedly made a racist remark towards a Wembley steward, that led to police involvement. It was then that a swarm of away fans were recorded inciting violence against the forces and essentially chasing them away from the stands.

As well as this incident, viewers of last night’s game will have seen a group of Hungarian fans holding up a handmade sign that displayed a figure taking the knee, with a large cross through it, signalling their disagreement with the movement.



Hungary fans clash with police officers in the stands during the FIFA World Cup Qualifying match at Wembley Stadium, London.
Hungary fans clash with police officers in the stands during the FIFA World Cup Qualifying match at Wembley Stadium, London.

“I’m proud of our English players for taking a stance against racism publicly and setting an example,” said Guardian columnist, Owen Jones. “It’s leadership.”

The 37-year-old journalist said: “I’m not going to just say ‘there’s a unique problem with Hungary’, English fans in the past have engaged in some pretty notorious, terrible behaviour, but Hungary has a real problem generally at the moment. Their government, their regime is barely a democracy, it’s a dictatorship almost. It’s racist – it sanctions racism. It’s anti-Semitic.

“There was an atmosphere in Hungary where essentially, as a far-right government, where that kind of behaviour is essentially being nurtured by the ruling party in Hungary. So, I don’t think you can divorce it from that broader context, but I think we can see here the nature of people.

“When people say we have the right to boo people taking the knee, people who are booing taking the knee are people who generally have a problem with English players taking a stance against racism – that’s what offended the Hungarian thugs and that’s their behaviour.”

It was then that Vine asked Widdecombe whether she agreed with Jones’ comments, to which she replied: “No I don’t.”

The former Conservative and Brexit party member then revealed that “metaphorically speaking”, she would boo taking the knee.

“It is a pointless gesture”, she told the host.

Vine’s guest speakers did come to an agreement, however, on the fact that the violent behaviour that is regularly being exerted at football matches should be deemed intolerable.

Widdecombe, 74, argued: “What we saw there was utterly unacceptable. Where Owen is absolutely right is, it’s not just any one nation. Football hooliganism is a big problem, and it was particularly big in Britain about ten to 20 years ago.”

Jones agreed, “Hungary need to be booted out of the European Union. The fact that the EU haven’t booted them and Poland for that matter given the way they’re flouting basic democratic norms and encouraging that kind of behaviour.”

It was then that the host posed a further suggestion to his guests: “I’m not endorsing this view but let me just put it to you – If the Hungarian fans can’t control themselves, let’s not make them angrier by taking the knee.”

Jones was quick to respond: “Now that is ridiculous. You don’t surrender to thugs. You don’t allow racist, violent thugs to determine how you behave. They’re the problem, not English players.”



Disagreeing with Vine's proposition, Jones said "You don't allow racist, violent thugs to determine how you behave."
Disagreeing with Vine’s proposition, Jones said “You don’t allow racist, violent thugs to determine how you behave.”

Jones continued: “Ann says it’s a pointless gesture, but if it’s pointless, why are you angry about it? You could just ignore it! It shows leadership against racism.”

Widdecombe could also be heard agreeing with Jones against Vine’s suggestion, stating: “No – even I don’t go there. I don’t go there.”

She said: “Yes, it’s a pointless gesture, but I would not go with you [Jeremy] on that last question. You can go a long way down that route of what you do in order to prevent something worse.”



Host Jeremy Vine was forced to cut the segment short when the debate between his two guests became heated.
Host Jeremy Vine was forced to cut the segment short when the debate between his two guests became heated.

Using the hashtag #JeremyVine, a number of Channel 5 viewers took to Twitter to have their say, some suggesting that footballers should stop taking the knee.

@TaniaWren wrote: “If taking the knee is having the opposite effect and inciting people, why do it? Maybe try another way to highlight the case!”

Another Twitter user, @blondebarbench argued: “Don’t talk wet @OwenJones84. Leadership my ****. If police hit me with a baton they would be knocked out. English fans hate them kneeling down.”

Others sided with Jones on the matter.

Twitter user @_solarfeeling said: “If it’s upsetting the rascist knuckleheads then it’s even more reason to do it. Why let them win, no gesture will be acceptable to them no matter what they say.”

Similarly, @natasha_lass tweeted: “Any proactive act against racism that gets these racists, Tories & bigots this upset is working.”

@SchiessShowUK directed his argument towards Widdicombe’s comment, writing: “How can taking the knee be a ‘meaningless gesture’ when you are sat there discussing it, Ann?”

“If Anne thinks the taking of the knee is a pointless gesture then why is she so passionate about it? If it was pointless it wouldn’t bother people at all,” tweeted @Plastician. “Back the players and the message. It’s a gesture and a reminder that people need to learn to accept others.”





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