On each topic, he has done his best to pick his path carefully. He admitted that he has, for example, found the issue of Qatar “overwhelming.”
“This is a country being criticized internally for modernizing too fast,” he said. “We have to be respectful of other cultures. It is complicated. I can’t bounce up and down in public and expect people to get round a table.” Even so, on that and all of the other subjects he has confronted, he believes he has been “more active” than he might have imagined. “I can’t be a loose cannon,” he said. “But I recognize my responsibility.”
That approach, he knows, may have made his job harder. Tryl’s research indicates that, unlike in the United States, England does not contain what are known as stacked identities: an individual’s stance on Brexit is not a reliable indicator, for example, of their perception of lockdowns or vaccination, let alone issues like abortion or universal health care, where there is broad social consensus.
“There is a lot of overlap and divergence,” Tryl said. The perception, though, is different. “Half the country think we are more divided than we have ever been,” he said, and that perception itself has a power.
Southgate, no matter how studiously he has tried to stifle rather than spark controversy, has not been able to escape it. In a country that defines itself by division, even trying to find nuance necessitates either taking, or being assigned, a side — and dealing with the consequences.
“I could have ducked it all,” Southgate said. “But whenever this is finished, I want to be able to look back and say I stood for what I believed.”