THERE is a bigger issue than identifying the people who aimed hateful, racist posts at the England footballers.

Yes, those culprits should be prosecuted, have their accounts closed and be banned from football grounds. They should be named and shamed, and the social media companies should co-operate fully and bear some responsibility for what is posted on their sites.

But none of that will remove the source of the problem. Banning people from social media, or football grounds, will not change the thoughts that go on in their heads.

They will still be racist, whether they express themselves on Instagram or not. They will probably also have other angry, baseless, prejudices against minorities.

Perhaps the furore will make some of them sober up and realise the stupidity of their thoughts – how can you hate someone for missing a penalty? Perhaps the almost universal disgust at the abuse will make them realise that their comments are way out of step with their fellow countrymen.

This is where language plays such a vital part. If politicians give the racists even a little leeway, it is now clear that they will take it and tweet about it, so politicians have to be so careful about how they express themselves, and it was reassuring to see several Conservatives yesterday accepting this.

We can’t control what goes on in people’s minds but perhaps we can shut down some of the headspace that allows the thoughts to burst out into such hateful actions.