Early yesterday afternoon, Ray Honeyford was listening with unconcealed delight to the radio commentary from the C&G Cup final at Lord’s cricket ground as the Sussex batsmen, already 68 for 5, battled to find some form. Lancashire, Mr Honeyford, noted cheerfully, were doing rather well, as he watched through the window while his wife, Angela, and a friend tended to the garden. “My wife does all the gardening,” Mr Honeyford says, “partly because I’m too lazy, partly because she doesn’t want my help.” He motions towards the potted flowers that sit on the polished table in the centre of his living room. He says he cannot name them, this by way of proving his horticultural ignorance.
The plants are Angela’s, as are the prints of the Cezanne paintings and the black and white family pictures that line the walls of the living room of their modest house in Bury, Manchester. There are some framed medals of Mr Honeyford’s uncle, a “Manchester lad like me”, who was killed in the First World War, but nothing that reflects his own career as a teacher. No qualifications behind glass to recall the achievements of the boy from the large impoverished family who had initially failed his 11-plus, but nevertheless managed to become a Bachelor of Arts by correspondence and then a Master of Arts.
There are no photographs of him pictured with his students. But that was all a long time ago now. Mr Honeyford, 72, “retired” more than 20 years ago as the headmaster of a school in Bradford. Or, at least, that was when he was vilified by politically correct race “experts”, was sent death threats, and condemned as a racist. Eventually, he was forced to resign and never allowed to teach again.
His crime was to publish an article in The Salisbury Review in 1984 doubting whether the children in his school were best served by the connivance of the educational authorities in such practices as the withdrawal of children from school for months at a time in order to go “home” to Pakistan, on the grounds that such practices were appropriate to the children’s native culture. In language that was sometimes maladroit, he drew attention, at a time when it was still impermissible to do so, to the dangers of ghettoes developing in British cities.
Mr Honeyford thought that schools such as his own, the Drummond Middle School, where 95 per cent of the children were of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, were a disaster both for their pupils and for society as a whole. He was a passionate believer in the redemptive power of education, and its ability to integrate people of different backgrounds and weld them into a common society. He then became notorious for, among other things, his insistence that Muslim girls should be educated to the same standard as everyone else.
Last week, 22 years on, he was finally vindicated. The same liberal establishment that had professed outrage at his views quietly accepted that he was, after all, right. Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, made a speech, publicly questioning the multiculturalist orthodoxies that, for so long, have acted almost as a test of virtue among “right-thinking” people. As Miss Kelly told an audience: “There are white Britons who do not feel comfortable with change. They see the shops and restaurants in their town centres changing. They see their neighbourhoods becoming more diverse.
Detached from the benefits of those changes, they begin to believe the stories about ethnic minorities getting special treatment, and to develop a resentment, a sense of grievance. We have moved from a period of uniform consensus on the value of multiculturalism, to one where we can encourage that debate by questioning whether it is encouraging separateness. These are difficult questions and it is important that we don’t shy away from them. In our attempt to avoid imposing a single British identity and culture, have we ended up with some communities living in isolation of each other, with no common bonds between them?”
Miss Kelly’s speech comes two decades too late to save the career of Mr Honeyford. And asked last week whether the minister’s speech would change anything, Mr Honeyford shrugged resignedly and said it was too late for that, too. He remains, understandably, bitter about the whole episode. He had been striving to do his best for very disadvantaged pupils, and was branded racist for doing so, and made to live like a fugitive for many years. Asked whether he was impressed by Miss Kelly’s recent speech, he said that she was only a politician, a bird of passage, minister of education one day and minister of communities the next, and like all politicians liable to say whatever was fashionable or useful to her career at the moment.
The fact that we have a Communities Secretary at all, more than 30 years after the Race Relations Act was passed, is testimony to failure, as well as to the bureaucratic instinct for survival. Official attempts to guide our racial and intercultural relations having apparently achieved very little so far—Miss Kelly’s speech was made at the launch of yet another quango, this one called the Commission on Integration and Cohesion. For those who want to establish new quangos, nothing succeeds like failure: the more failures, the more quangos.
Her speech comes about a year after that of Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, who wondered whether the nostrums of multiculturalism had done more harm than good, and suggested instead that immigrants and children of immigrants needed to be given some means of becoming British. The constant emphasis on the worst possible interpretation of
British history would, in the end, lead to a society not merely of separate communities, but of antipathetical ghettoes. In his speech last September, he said: “Residentially, some districts are on their way to becoming fully fledged ghettoes—black holes into which no one goes without fear and trepidation and from which no one ever escapes undamaged . . . We are sleepwalking our way to segregation.”
Around the same time, the man who was then mayor of Bradford, Mohammed Ajeeb, is adamant that he did the right thing in calling for Mr Honeyford’s dismissal. Mr Ajeeb recently said: “I had no doubt in my mind that the man was a racist and I insisted he must go.”
Yesterday, Mr Ajeeb told The Sunday Telegraph that he felt that his decision was the right one at the time, because the tone of Mr Honeyford’s article was inflammatory, and showed “an inclination to demonstrate prejudice against certain sections of our community”. He was afraid that if Mr Honeyford stayed, there might be riots because the two races in Bradford at the time were very polarised.
Mr Ajeeb’s own views of the means by which education might serve to integrate people have changed in the past 20 years. Previously, he was against the idea of dispersing Muslim children throughout other schools (bussing, in effect, such as had been done in the United States), which is now his preferred solution, so that no school in Bradford’s inner city should have more than 70 per cent of any one race. He thinks that most of the Muslim parents would approve of this solution, though he concedes that implementation would be fraught with political difficulties. But 20 years ago, wouldn’t he have considered such an idea, and anyone who proposed it, as racist?
Mr Ajeeb received death threats at the time of the Honeyford affair. So did Mr Honeyford, who had to live for a time under police protection. His school was constantly picketed by activists, and eventually burnt down in an arson attack. The situation was explosive, though, even to this day, interpretations vary as to who was to blame.
There are slight grounds for optimism for the future, however. An apocalyptic conflict may not happen after all. Manningham, the area in which the Drummond Middle School is situated, has come up in the world in recent years—or, at least, parts of it have. Gentrification is pushing its green shoots into the area; Bradford was once a very grand city, its grandeur ruined as much by the depredations of 1960s and 1970s town planners as by those of economic decline.
Manningham is now less segregated, or mono-racial, than it was a few years ago. This is because of an influx of immigrants from other parts of the world, particularly Eastern Europe. One of the benefits of migration from many countries might be the dilution of populations so that ghettoes become less ghetto-like. New immigrants always gravitate to cheaper housing, encouraging the dispersal of previous immigrants. To all appearances, the people of different races rub along well enough in an area that had once been startling by the uniformity of its Muslim population.
Moreover, the people willing to speak—among them Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovakians, people of Pakistani origin—said last week that what they wanted for their children was a British education, so that the children would integrate themselves fully in society and secure good jobs. No one wanted to be Balkanised into competing and antagonistic communities, preserving their customs in pristine perfection, unaffected by the fact that the communities now lived in Britain.
Mr Honeyford’s school has been rebuilt at great expense. It is still predominantly Muslim, with a 15 per cent Somalian intake; in an act of what some view as outstanding multicultural political correctness, it has been renamed Iqra, though it is still known locally as the Drummond. Shanaz Anwar-Bleem, the new headmistress, speaking in a personal capacity, said that the withdrawal of children from school to return to Pakistan or Bangladesh for months at a time was still a problem, but the authorities were trying to clamp down on it.
The school is twinned with another in Bradford, which her pupils, who would otherwise grow up solely among their own ethnic and cultural group, visit so that they can learn about the way other children live, and even make friends there. Religious education is not monolithic: the children go to mosques, but also to churches and even to synagogues. Mrs Anwar-Bleem, the daughter of immigrants, says that the parents of the pupils are clear about the essential role of English in the education of her pupils and of knowledge of British culture. She blames Government policies for the de facto segregation that still exists in Bradford.
This does not seem so very different in spirit from what Mr Honeyford said in the mid-1980s. The fact that he published his article in The Salisbury Review, seen as so Right-wing as to be completely off the scale of respectability, was part of the problem; if he had published it in an equivalently Left-wing journal, it would have been very much less objectionable.
The article also included asides, not strictly relevant to the subject matter in question, about the political style of the Indian subcontinent, and particularly Pakistan, that could hardly have been pleasing to some of the people in the area, even if true. In so delicate a situation, these asides were perhaps impolitic. Yet those people in Manningham who still remember Mr Honeyford seem to do so with fondness. They do not think of him as a racist, much less a BNP type. Amit Shah, 65, said, “It was all political what happened to him. He was a very nice headmaster, and the children liked him.” It is hard not to conclude that a terrible injustice was done him.
Mr Honeyford had made the mistake of espousing anti-multiculturalism before it was socially acceptable to do so, just as it was once wrong to be an anti-communist before everyone became one. He lost his career because his tone was wrong, and he did not subscribe to the then “correct” views of a very thorny subject. Hell hath no fury like a bien pensant contradicted.
So why has the Government finally come round to a point of view that is, at least by implication, a little like Mr Honeyford’s? Miss Kelly was forced to act after months of mounting public concern, and increasingly hostile headlines, about the value of multi-culturalism and immigration. The prospect of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the new EU countries, Bulgaria and Romania, entering Britain on January 1, 2007, has focused minds, as have official figures showing the true extent of the numbers coming to Britain—427,000 have registered to work here since 2004, it emerged shortly before Miss Kelly’s announcement.
The debate has been given added urgency by the shock of the recent alleged terror plots hatched by British citizens to blow up airliners. Miss Kelly is no doubt aware of the deep anxiety and even anger in the country that politicians have hitherto failed to acknowledge, and that threatens one day to erupt through the relatively calm surface of daily life. The recent refusal of passengers to allow an aircraft to fly until two Asian men (who appeared to be speaking Arabic) were taken off the flight was possibly a harbinger of far greater nastiness to come.
As for Mr Honeyford, were he not suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s, he could have been forgiven for celebrating his long-awaited victory with a jig around his Manchester living room yesterday, before leaving to watch his beloved Bury football team achieve a similar resounding result against Grimbsy at Gigg Lane. But neither time, nor Miss Kelly’s admission, can heal the scars for this martyr to multiculturalism.