Musings From The Padded Cell

Make Bradford Better

The Channel 4 documentary (should it be mockumentary?) entitled Make Bradford British will fill genuine Bradfordians with a sense of dread; once again the city is seen as easy pickings for the media. Having read the publicity material on the Channel 4 website it is clear that there is nothing new here so why bother? And, indeed, what possible good can come out of it?

According to Heenan Bhatti, the Series Editor, Channel 4 chose Bradford because it is where “a predominately Asian city centre is surrounded by areas which are nearly exclusively white.” This is a contentious claim, but it is a little known fact that Bradford is almost two-thirds rural, defying the well preserved image of soot, grime and dark satanic mills; most of which have been converted or demolished over the last twenty years.

Bhatti goes on to explain how they chose the subjects. The programme is based on a Big Brother format, and as I was asked to take part in it I have some knowledge of the process. It all began before Christmas, when two young researchers visited my local pub. They were seeking opinions around a range of questions, but the obvious theme was race.

I was asked if there were racial tensions in Bradford. This was such a lame form of questioning around the great unspeakable. It was all predictable, tired old stuff and meaningless really, because another television documentary was hardly going to reverse decades of terminal decline. In fairness, many inner cities have the same issues as Bradford and to focus on race as a primary cause and effect is both shallow and ignorant. If I really thought my views would have been taken seriously, and not sensationalised for television I may have considered it.

Let’s be honest; we have got racial tensions, but these are not unique to Bradford or any part of the UK. People of different cultures have always struggled to co-exist; in Bradford this is in some part exacerbated by the belief by some that certain elements of the population are outside the law. The police hardly help to reverse this well entrenched mind set and the authorities deny it but there are some parts of the city that are no-go areas. Decades of political correctness dictating government policies also makes it so much harder to reverse.

Bhatti makes the point that independent research deemsBradford“one of the most deeply segregated areas in the country” but fails to offer an explanation why. In simple terms he means that there has been a “white flight” from the inner city areas. This is more than simply a race issue; it is about personal aspiration and advancement; people want a better quality of life and work hard to achieve this. The draw of the green and pleasant open spaces is nothing new; prosperous Asian families also seek to escape the city centre areas.

Take the ongoing embarrassment that is the city centre: This is highlighted by the Westfield shopping centre debacle and evidenced by recent news that over 3,000 buildings in the centre are unoccupied. The city centre is becoming a ghost town and the Council has proved to be delusional, disingenuous and, frankly, out of its depth. Prior to the programme the leader of the Council was whining on television about how unfair this all was clearly ignorant of the shambles over which he presides. There is clearly no believable or credible strategy for the city centre, nor has there been for decades; Bradford has been let down by the total ineptitude of its leadership.

Politicians talk idealistically of fulfilling future skill shortages with “selective” immigration but try taking the Life in the UK test on the Channel 4 website – I did and failed miserably; for those seeking a complete end to immigration this should achieve it at a stroke. In Bradford’s case the post-war immigrants, largely from Pakistan, initially came to do jobs that could not be filled by the indigenous population; who knows if this was the beginnings of the “something for nothing culture” we have today? So before we complain about immigration should we not be doing something about the few million layabouts we have on benefits first?

Subsequent generations have seen most of these largely low-skilled jobs disappear, but many also viewed them unattractive and have sought less lawful forms of earning a living; this is not an exclusively Asian problem. The reality is that as the inner city has decayed in recent decades, differentials in property values alone will create divisions. Immigrants who enter a country hardly able to speak the language are at a clear disadvantage from the outset and Bradford has evidenced this; policy makers remain ignorant of this reality.

The Channel 4 approach reminded me of when Sky Sports did a short piece featuring my local cricket club; again race was the central issue as we were playing Manningham Mills. They featured a junior game that was a tremendous advert for cricket played by local lads in a great spirit, but Sky’s agenda was pretty clear cut. They interviewed nobody from our club, tried to imply we were almost gilded in comparison and then left, oblivious to the result.

In their hurry to get away they left behind the production schedule for their whole week-long tour of Yorkshire, covering the test match. Reading it, I was struck by the patronising and pervasive theme, summarised by one line: “Drive into Bradford and take pictures of smiling Asian shopkeepers.” We did the right thing and handed this rubbish back to them but you get the point.

We are where we are in Bradford as they are in Burnley, Oldham,Birmingham and Hackney, to name but a few; the issues that confront the city are not unique. Multiculturalism may look like a trendy social experiment to the media luvvies but on the ground the issues and challenges have been ignored for far too long. Frankly, a cheaply produced television documentary with a borrowed theme and ridiculous title (since when was Bradford not British?), will do nothing but stir up tensions; nor will it do anything but further trash the battered image of a struggling city.

It may be good fodder for the media and you can expect a cascade of simpering articles and pointless radio phone-ins and yet, just like the riots, the show will move on as soon as the dust settles. In 1995 Bill Bryson wrote in his novel Notes from a Small Island: “Bradford’s role in life is to make every place else in the world look better in comparison, and it does this very well.” The City has had plenty of time to improve; the fact that it has not done should be cause for concern for all; time has all but run out.

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  1. Steve

    I watched the Make Bradford British programme, both episodes. Three Asians were featured, one had an anger attack and stormed off in episode two, never to be seen again. The other two, a man and a woman, both Muslims, were exceptionally nice people. The man was a former professional rugby league player; the woman a university graduate. They were as representative of Bradford’s Asian population as I am.


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