Would You Go out and Mix If You Risked a Good Kicking?
Howe, Darcus, New Statesman (1996)
Last Monday, Oldham Council met to consider the results of the inquiry into last summer's street fighting in the town, involving 20,000 young men, mainly of Pakistani origin. The report has 134 recommendations. The last inquiry of that kind was the Macpherson report on the implications of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. That offered more than 170 recommendations. The Home Office promised to implement every one of them with the assistance of Stephen Lawrence's father and Lee Jasper, Ken Livingstone's adviser on race.
I am certain that neither Stephen's dad nor Jasper can answer, even for a million pounds, the question: what is Recommendation 121 of the Macpherson report? Nor, I think, could the councillors and bureaucrats of Oldham, even as they left their meeting, have told you what was proposed in, say, Recommendation 27 of the report on their town.
Why all these recommendations? The aim is to trap activists in a merry-go-round of decisions without significant actions. Far better to have just six recommendations that every child in Oldham could commit to memory. Far better to have a few simple aims so that, in five years' time, people can point at this or that building, to this or that social development, and say definitely whether or not anything has been achieved.
When I made White Tribe, a documentary for Channel 4, I travelled through Oldham to find out what white people thought of the state of race relations. I wrote in this column that I was witnessing apartheid and that it would not be long before a mad bout of violence descended upon the place. There was a stench of decay about the whites who lived in dilapidated council flats. The authorities in Oldham -- the same ones who now meet to consider the 134 recommendations -- could not come to terms with the truth. Every bureaucrat and his cousin signed a letter of protest to the NS. I was a troublemaker, they said, a mischief-maker who was trying to stir up the sensible people of Oldham.
And then came the avalanche. Young Pakistani men, who had been gerrymandered into cages in northern towns, exploded in a violent attempt to break out of their isolation. …