Is This Racist?

Peter Young, Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, UK), March 9, 2006

A complaint has been made to race relations investigators after Newcastle was described as “hideously white”.

The remark was made at a conference by Neil Murphy, a Government official who is working on secondment at Newcastle City Council.

At the same conference, the city council’s assistant chief executive, Paul Rubinstein, des-cribed the Tyne & Wear area as one of the “whitest” in the North.

Newcastle resident Bryan Allen, 49, has now made a formal complaint to the Commission for Racial Equality claiming the remarks were insulting.

Mr Allen, a former restaurant manager, told the Chronicle he would like both men to apologise to locals.

The row follows a conference to discuss progress on the Northern Way, a Government initiative to close the North-South divide.

During the conference it was claimed the famous Geordie welcome is a myth and attitudes to immigration are holding back the North East.

City officers led a session examining the situation in Tyne & Wear and highlighted the need for more immigration to help develop the economy.

Mr Rubinstein said research showed antagonism towards immigration was stronger in the North East than in any other part of the UK.

“There is a real issue for our city region—which is the whitest, with the possible exception of the Tees Valley, among the Northern Way city regions—to see immigration as positive, and something which will drive the city forward,” he said.

“There is this mythology about the famous Geordie welcome—I don’t buy that, I’m afraid.”

Mr Murphy, an economic adviser on secondment from the Treasury, said: “Newcastle is, to coin a phrase, hideously white. What drives creativity? It’s immigration.”

His remarks echoed those of former BBC boss Greg Dyke, who, five years ago, described the corporation as being “hideously white”.

Mr Allen is alleging the comments are racist.

“In my view, every civilised country benefits from the influx of immigrants, integrating within that country’s culture, but whether people agree with that or not isn’t the point,” he said.

“As a nation we have always welcomed immigrants and I found the remarks made at this conference insulting. I believe it was a case of the politically correct brigade going totally over the top.

“I’m sure if someone from a council stated for example ‘Wolverhampton is hideously black’ there would be uproar and rightly so.

“I have lived and worked abroad and see people for what they are and not where they’re from.”

A spokesman at the Commission for Racial Equality said: “We have received a complaint and that will be dealt with in the normal way through the complaints process.”

A council spokesman, said: “The two officers spoke on behalf of the city council during a workshop session at the Northern Way Summit which was very positively received.

“The reported comments stemmed from a question and answer session after the presentation during which a question was asked about barriers to competitiveness.

“In the response a MORI report was referred to which had been shared at numerous conferences and revealed the region’s lack of diversity in comparison with other regions.

“The reference to ‘Geordie welcome’ was couched in terms of that welcome not always being universally applied—the MORI poll showing that 23% of people in the North East disagreed with the statement ‘it is a good thing that Britain is a multi-racial society’. That was the highest rate in the country.

“The ‘hideously white’ comment was prefaced by ‘to coin a phrase’ signalled by the officer in inverted commas. These comments were well understood and received by the audience. Only when reported out of context by the media did they cause some offence.

“They were not intended to cause offence however and the city council very much regrets if they were misinterpreted through the media.”

There was no comment from Mr Murphy or Mr Rubinstein.

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