Posted on February 8, 2005

Tory Election Poster Sparks Complaints of Racism from Students and Teachers

Richard Garner, Independent (London), Feb. 7

Staff and students at a multi-cultural sixth-form college in inner London have lodged complaints against a Conservative election poster on a billboard opposite its gates, claiming it is racist.

The poster, outside the City and Islington College’s sixth-form centre, says on one side: “I mean, how hard is it to keep a hospital clean?” and on the other: “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration”. At the foot of the poster, a question is posed: “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”

Frank McLoughlin, the college’s principal, said students and staff had been incensed by the poster. “At lunchtime, a lot of students were staring at it feeling very, very angry, saying this is really racist and upsetting,” he said.

“Let’s be generous and say the location is a coincidence but it just happens that 65 per cent of our students are from ethnic minorities. They felt it was quite deliberately provocative and racist.”

Mr McLoughlin is writing to the Conservative Party asking it to withdraw the poster and is also complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority.

“It’s the juxtaposition of the two comments with the question underneath asking whether the reader agrees with the party that invites you to draw an inference that is racist,” he said.

Ceinwen Hilton, the National Union of Teachers’ representative at the college, said: “It’s the sort of poster you would associate with the British National Party.”

The row comes in the same week that Labour withdrew two posters from an internet site after complaints that they were anti-Semitic. One depicted Michael Howard, the Tory leader, and Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor, both of whom are Jewish, as flying pigs. The second appeared to show Mr Howard with an old-fashioned pocket watch on a chain which critics claimed made him look like Fagin from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

A Tory spokeswoman said the hospital and immigration poster was being used throughout the country and rejected any suggestion that the college site had been singled out for its use. “In no way do we consider it racist and we would defend it to the hilt,” she said.

Within a day, someone had taken matters into their own hands, painting out the word “not” from the slogan: “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration”.