In his younger days, Eric Pickles was very much a consensus Tory, a small “L” liberal, like his friend and fellow councillor Peter Gilmour. They were unashamedly anti-racist, which in the early 1980s put them at odds with many in their own party. Their approach to council business was informed by principle as much as ideology.
And then came Ray Honeyford.
Honeyford had been appointed head of Drummond Middle School in Bradford back in 1980. He had been given a verbal warning two years later after a letter to Bradford’s evening paper the Telegraph and Argus, which he wrote on a school letterhead. Then, in early 1984, he wrote an article for the Salisbury Review, which at the time was “pro-repatriation”.
Honeyford’s article, “Education and Race – an alternative view”, attacked “the race relations lobby”, the council’s education policy, and talked of a superior “English” culture. Even so, this journal had a circulation measured in hundreds, so at first it had little effect. But in March of that year, the article was reprinted by the Yorkshire Post.
The Yorkshire Post is a solidly – and on occasion rabidly – Tory supporting paper. Its editorial staff included the legendary blowhard Bernard Dineen, only recently retired, who penned a weekly rant called the “Monday Column”. Connoisseurs of right wing ranting can still access some of the Dineen oeuvre, including the priceless assertion that there is a “nice way” to call someone a “Paki”.
Dineen may or may not have been the man at the YP with the Salisbury Review, but the journal didn’t just appear there: one of the senior staff must have been a subscriber. Following the YP’s reprinting of Honeyford’s article, all hell broke loose. The consensus was that Honeyford had to go, whether or not he was an effective headmaster. But then came Tory HQ and the Daily Mail.
The Mail bought Honeyford and his story: they concluded that he was being “hounded”. The views of the Drummond parents – who were against Honeyford staying, and nowadays might have been better heard – were disregarded.
The Tory party nationally supported Honeyford. And in the next round of local elections, Peter Gilmour lost his seat: many party workers refused to campaign for him. Fat Eric now arrived at the fork in the road where principle diverges from populism. His sense of self interest now heightened, he chose the latter. He changed tack, backed Honeyford, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I’ll look at Pickles’ humble beginnings later.