LAST WEEK, for the second time in recent months, anti-racists protested outside the offices of the Daily Mail against its xenophobic coverage of asylum-seekers in this country. The piece that provoked the most recent row was a long, vitriolic attack on Somalis in Ealing, where I live, written by a "top writer", Jo-Ann Goodwin. It was well-crafted to create anger and panic. Facts that matter would have got in the way of this broader social purpose, so they were simply left out. Goodwin says that 90 per cent of Somalis in Ealing are unemployed, but not that many of them are not allowed to work and others face awful discrimination. I know, because friends give them the odd gardening or babysitting job.
But this is what the Mail does, so why the angry surprise? I think it is because expectations of the paper have changed in the past two years. Once upon a time you used to be able either to love or hate the Mail, because it was a truly dependable paper. It was guaranteed not to disappoint or confuse you by taking unexpected positions. Unions were scum, unmarried mothers a national scandal. Thatcher was a goddess we did not merit and the only deserving people in Britain were white home-owners.
Blacks were to be feared and loathed, because they were mostly muggers and rapists. A handful of Asians were useful little millionaires, but most ran dirty corner shops, caged their sweet, anglicised little girls, and ripped off the welfare state. Most of all, immigrants were vermin overrunning the country, claiming to be refugees, destroying our green and pleasant land. There were a few oddities that didn't quite make sense in these terms. The Mail, unlike some more liberal papers, not only has been open to black and Asian journalists for years now, but was the first to give a black journalist, Baz Bamigboye, a star job as their showbiz man. But this made no difference to the set values and coverage. Then came its incredible response to the Stephen Lawrence killing and the five white boys who stood accused, but walked free without a trial. The Mail named and shamed them, and black and Asian Britons were left reeling with gratitude, and even guilt. Some of us started buying the paper. Radicals such as the fiery Mark Wadsworth, and Stuart Weir, the widely respected writer on democracy, wrote to the paper with such praise that the eyes hurt to read their words. The explanation for this was that Paul Dacre, the Mail's editor-in- chief, knew Neville Lawrence because the latter had done a decorating job for him, and out of this personal contact was born an astonishing, unlikely campaign. …