Gary Lineker – Striking staff force BBC bosses and Tories to back down

James Ivens, Socialist Party national committee

The BBC suspended Match of the Day host Gary Lineker for tweeting criticisms of the Tory government’s attacks on migrants. But collective action has forced BBC bosses into an embarrassing climbdown.

Apparently, Gary Lineker’s tweets undermined the state broadcaster’s ‘impartial’ veneer? In the real world, that’s utter hypocrisy! This is the firm that’s run by ‘former’ Tory Richard Sharp, appointed by a panel dominated by Tory members and donors, after helping Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan.

The final episode of David Attenborough’s Wild Isles series wasn’t broadcast by the BBC, fearing a backlash from Tory MPs. Instead, it went straight onto iPlayer. Alan Sugar, from the BBC’s Apprentice, was allowed to tweet attacking Mick Lynch and the RMT rail strikers.

Strike wave

The background here is that the government is under siege. Workers across sectors are downing tools, demanding some reprieve from the endless muggings of austerity, inflation and fat-cat cronyism. The Tories are desperate for a diversion.

So the Tories have brought new legislation punishing migrants who risk their lives crossing the English Channel in small boats. The government tells us that those fleeing poverty, persecution and war are weighing onto cost-of-living misery in Britain. The BBC is faithfully covering for the Tories.

But is that where our money’s gone? Corporate profits in the last quarter of 2022 alone were £154 billion. That’s an all-time record. Big business hoarded enough in those three months to close the annual NHS funding gap, and build two million council homes on top.

There’s more than enough money to provide jobs, homes and services for everyone. The striking unions have targeted the real enemy. It’s the super-rich and their government who are robbing us.

So was Lineker right? On the facts, yes. Here’s what he wrote: “There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.

Small boat crossings are equivalent to just 0.05% of the UK population per year. Many of those people get sent back, sometimes to the very horrors they were fleeing. Other countries do take in more, although turn plenty away too.

The other remarks are opinions, and we’re all entitled to those. We would certainly agree that this is a cruel attack on the most vulnerable, intended to whip up division.

No apology

His refusal to apologise is justified. But it’s a shame multimillionaire Lineker hasn’t backed political change that could help the whole working class, including refugees. In 2017, he dismissed Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies as “way left”, calling instead for “something sensibly centrist”.

‘Sensible centrist’ Keir Starmer has signed up to the Tories’ austerity rules, and reproached them for not being harsher on migrants. ‘Sensible centrist’ Emmanuel Macron in France is accepting tens of millions in UK funding to hunt down small boats, while slashing pensions for French workers.

But Lineker’s colleagues took the right approach to his suspension. Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, and a series of other hosts, pundits and commentators declined to appear on BBC football shows.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Bectu – the union for media workers, and the biggest union at the BBC – released statements in support of Lineker. The football players’ union, the PFA, rightly stated it would defend any footballers who refused to be interviewed by the BBC.


Members of the NUJ at BBC Local are striking for 24 hours on 15 and 16 March over pay and cuts to radio shows and other BBC resources.

Gary Lineker isn’t the only BBC employee that has the right to have an opinion. BBC staff, like teachers, civil servants, nurses and all workers, are perfectly capable of doing their jobs professionally, while participating in their unions and taking public positions on different issues outside of their workday.

It’s a sign that the leaders of British capitalism are in a real crisis that a tweet by a former footballer can send the Tories and the state broadcaster into such a spin.

The BBC had to air shows on 11-12 March with no hosts or interviews. This shows the power of collective withdrawal of labour, following the example set by rail, mail, health, education, and civil service workers, among many others.

That’s the way to beat the crisis: unite against the employers and their politicians. Take the wealth off the super-rich. Fight for jobs, homes and services for all, not racist scapegoating.