Appearing on the radio station Leading Britain’s Conversation on Friday 3rd July, Boris Johnson was asked by presenter Nick Ferrari if he would ‘take the knee’ in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. In response, Johnson stated that “I don’t believe in gestures. I believe in substance. I believe in doing things that make a practical difference.” When pressed further, he said ‘I don’t want people to be bullied into doing things they don’t necessarily want to do.”
In a recent poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, over two thirds (67%) of the public stated that they agreed with the Prime Minister’s answer, including 38% who said they ‘strongly agree.’ Just 10% said they disagree with the Prime Minister’s answer.
Notably, 50% of 2019 Labour voters agree with Boris Johnson’s comments on LBC in regard to ‘taking the knee,’ while just 25% disagree. Altogether, twice as many 2019 Labour voters support Johnson’s view on the issue than oppose it. Beyond recent Labour voters, however, Johnson’s response is approved by the majority of respondents across all geographic regions and age brackets.
The act of ‘taking the knee’ in relation to activism on issues related to race was popularised when the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem before his American football team’s games in 2016, to protest against police brutality and racism in the USA. In recent weeks, the act has become a regular aspect of Black Lives Matter protests which have occurred in the UK and purportedly indicates solidarity with the movement. During the Black Lives Matters protests that have taken place in the UK over the last few weeks, a number of high-profile figures, including Labour leader Keir Starmer, have chosen to ‘take the knee.’ Others, such as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, have declined to do so.
Overall, only 26% of the public agree that Boris Johnson should ‘take the knee.’ A clear plurality of 40% disagree that the Prime Minister should engage in the act. It is unclear whether the public’s lack of support for Johnson taking the knee highlights their opposition to the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement, or whether they disagree that the Prime Minister should engage in a gesture which in certain contexts is associated with subjugation and subordination (as is the case in the popular Netflix series Game of Thrones). It could also signify disagreement with the emphasis, as Johnson noted in his response, on ‘gestures’ rather than ‘substance.’
Opinion on whether Johnson should ‘take the knee’ is influenced, to a degree, by partisan allegiance. A majority (57%) of 2019 Conservative voters disagree that Boris Johnson should ‘take the knee’, while just 17% agree that he should. In contrast, a plurality (42%) of those who supported Labour in 2019 agree that the Prime Minister should ‘take the knee,’ and only a quarter (25%) disagree. The discrepancy among 2019 Labour voters between their responses to this question and to the question on Boris Johnson’s specific answer may indicate that many among this group thought his response was fair and reasonable, even if they disagreed with it. Nevertheless, it appears altogether that the public is firmly aligned with the Prime Minister’s decision on this particular matter.