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Friday 10 February 2012

Mail Canonises Honeyford

Frothing pundit Leo McKinstry has broadened his base today by having a characteristically righteous piece published by the Mail, and on a subject that the paper has ventilated frequently over the past quarter of a century, that of former teacher Ray Honeyford, who has recently passed at the age of 77. As the Mail always supported Honeyford, McKinstry’s picture of a man martyred is predictable.

Indeed, the former headmaster is described as “a martyr to political correctness” and “hounded for warning of the perils of multiculturalism”, so this article fits right in with the Dacre agenda. But for those who lived in the Bradford area at the time of what soon became known as the “Honeyford Affair”, there was rather more to tell about Drummond Middle School than McKinstry is telling Mail readers.

What set the affair in train was an article Honeyford wrote for the Salisbury Review in 1984 (the magazine was, at the time, not merely “Conservative”, as McKinstry tells, but took a “pro-repatriation” stance on immigration). As very few people read the Review, nothing much happened, until the article was reprinted by the right leaning Yorkshire Post early the following year.

The piece, titled “Education and race – an alternative view”, contained a number of thoroughly unfortunate characterisations, such as “West Indians ... create an ear-splitting cacophony for most of the night”, “the hysterical political temperament of the Indian sub-continent”, “a half-educated and volatile Sikh”, and “Pakistan is a country that cannot cope with democracy ... the heroin capital of the world”.

When Drummond parents found out what their childrens’ headmaster thought, it all kicked off. A Parents’ Action Committee was formed, and its members got themselves elected as parent governors. Most local politicians wanted Honeyford to go. Into this bear pit was thrown the chair of the council’s Education Committee, one Eric Pickles. It was an issue which defined his – populist – career.

Honeyford turned down a £100,000 pay-off. Then Pickles experienced an apparent Damascene conversion and decided that he should stay. This was not unconnected with mainstream Tory politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph supporting the under-fire headmaster, and papers like the Mail, which painted anyone opposed to Honeyford as left-wing conspirators – including the parents.

Sadly for Fat Eric, the people of Bradford were not of the same view, and the Tories were ejected from the council in 1986 in a Labour landslide. But in the meantime, Honeyford had received a £71,000 payoff and an index-linked £6,500 a year pension. Far from being a “broken man”, he threw himself into right leaning think tank land, buoyed by his financial independence. What you won’t read in the Mail.

[This post uses some information from Tony Grogan’s The Pickles Papers]

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