Extended View: Riots, Race and Reports: Denham, Cantle, Oldham and Burnley Inquiries

Virinder S. Kalra

Violent clashes between the police, the far right and British Asian Muslim youth marked the period before and after the 2001 general election in the UK. The historical level of votes awarded to the far right British National Party (BNP) in Oldham and Burnley is a dark stain on the vision of a multicultural Britain. The levels of violence that occurred in Bradford were deemed to be the worst in Britain for 20 years. Scenes of petrol bomb throwing youth, police under attack, looting and general acts of individual violence against the person were common in media outlets throughout the world. Unfortunately, this kind of street protest is not uncommon to Britain’s inner cities with similar but more widespread disturbances in the 1980s. It had been hoped that some lessons from the past had been learnt. But the ensuing media and public debate has exposed a number of ways in which the policies and practices involved in the creation of a multicultural society are still beyond the imagination of British society. Racial conflict is nothing new on the landscape of Britain’s urban areas. The 1980s witnessed a similar set of protests in 1981 and in 1985. It was hoped that 20 years after these events, some progress might have been made in creating a more equal and just society, but events in these northern towns, particularly in Bradford, have led many to question the basic premise of a multicultural society. Wider popular discourse, as reflected in both tabloid and intellectual media, remains trapped within the narrow confines of integration and separatism. Public policy also appears unable to escape this well-worn route. Four reports were released after the disturbances, two were local and two national in scope. The Burnley task force was set up after the June disturbances and was chaired by Lord Tony Clarke and consisted of a wide range of representatives, primarily local, from the voluntary as well as statutory sector. The report is wide ranging and the largest of all the docuSAGE Race Relations Abstracts Copyright © 2002 Institute of Race Relations Vol. 27(4): 20–30 [0307-9201(200211)27:4;20–30;029389]

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ments produced and in many ways provides the most information, though with little analysis or comment. The police in this regard were perceived as being soft on drug dealers and unable to deal with other common social problems. Differential treatment by the police is invoked in terms of favouring the Asian population. For instance: “There is a perception in the town that the police and the council fall over themselves to protect them [the Asians]” (Burnley Task Force Report, 2001: 63) This quote is given alongside another that argues that all people should be treated the same regardless of race. No mention is made in any of the submission about the possible criminalization of certain sections of the Asian population. A similar story can be found in the Oldham Independent Review led by David Ritchie, a career bureaucrat. The members of this review were drawn from the national stage and local representation was non-existent on the panel. The commissioning body for the research was the Local Authority and Police Authority. Neither had a member on the panel, though a former police superintendent was a member. Policing took up one chapter of the final report, but the central philosophy underpinning the approach is given in the opening highlighted paragraph of the chapter: “The police do not create the environment in which they work, but need to influence it, reflect it and respond to its problems” (Oldham Independent Review, 2001: 41). This approach therefore places the police outside of the society in which it is required to maintain law and order. This populist view is actually contradicted in the remainder of the chapter. The only event relating to the police that is open to criticism surrounds the release of racial incident statistics in January 2001, which indicated that White people were more frequently victims of racial attack than Asians. The report defends the position of the then chief superintendent in releasing the figures out of context, but goes on to point out that given the heightened tension in the town the matter could have been better handled. This is mild criticism but at least acknowledges that the police had some role in the build up of tension that led up to the riots. Furthermore, recommending that more Black and Asian police officers should be recruited indicates again a more social interventionist than reflective role. Most significantly perhaps is the idea that the alienation of Asian young people from the police force is not something that can be substantiated but is something of which note should be taken. This is despite the fact that in Appendix 7 of the report—where the views of the people of Oldham are summarized—the overwhelming attitudes toward the police from the Asian community—old and young—were negative. While the report attempts to tackle the source of this distrust, it is within an overall thesis that highlights segregation as the main cause of social unrest. The local authority, in terms of housing and education provision, are singled out for contributing to segregation, whereas the role of the police in creating and maintaining


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segregation is dismissed. Indeed, the whole conceptualization of the problem in terms of segregation allows for certain institutions to sideline their responsibilities. The two national reports following the disturbances also home in on the question of segregation through the notion of cohesion. Community Cohesion is the more substantive report, while the more useful is Building Cohesive Communities. Community Cohesion, chaired by Ted Cantle, covers an inquiry into Bradford, Burnley, Oldham and other towns with substantial minority ethnic populations that did not suffer disturbances. Unlike the local reports, the police are placed in the role of a key agency, which can influence and generate community cohesion. Their role in the disturbances is commended but actually lack of policing, toleration of drugs and allowing areas to become off limits—which in essence all relate to the criminalization of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) young people—were seen as improvements that needed to take place. A bizarre link is therefore established—one of the many that has emerged from these events— between tensions between communities and criminality:
Local authorities and police authorities should establish a protocol of support and ensure that there are clear agreements in place to enable serious problems of both criminality and tensions between communities to be tackled with the strong backing of both sides. (Cantle, 2001: 41)

Indeed, the process of criminalizing BME young people who riot is a well known strategy and has been used since the 1981 disturbances, as it ties in well with the other statistics discussed earlier on in the chapter. This strategy is both well illustrated and clearly explained in the seminal volume Policing the Crises (Hall et al., 1978). Of all of the reports the least substantive in terms of pages, but perhaps the most coherent in terms of understanding, was the Denham report, which is a ministerial document outlining future strategy. This is the only report to clearly highlight failure on the part of the police when dealing with communities in these areas. One of the key issues for concern is highlighted as: “weaknesses and disparity in the police response to community issues” (Denham, 2001: 11). Indeed, the lack of confidence in the police is also further cited as a cause for concern. It is, however, not surprising that the police come under most criticism in this report as this document is aimed at influencing national policy and in many ways it defers to the local reports to tackle specific issues. The way in which disorder was created in these towns is precisely due to the interplay of local and national conditions. Indeed, the importance of policies such as the McPherson Inquiry and its recommendations and the general relationship between the police and the issue of race relations does not feature at all in the Denham Report and is only briefly mentioned in two of the other reports. Yet it is precisely this context that

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provides one of the routes into understanding these disturbances. Indeed, without this background it is difficult to appreciate the role of the police, let alone attempt to embark on policy change. This is best exemplified by considering the role of the police in the lead up to the disturbances in Oldham. In January of 2001, the Chief Superintendent of Oldham, Eric Hewitt, reported to the media his concern about the increase of racist attacks by gangs of young Pakistani and Bangladeshi men.1 Quoting statistics compiled by the police, he argued that in the past 12 months there had been 572 racial incidents, 60 percent of which were committed by Asians against White men. No qualification was given to these statistics. Nor was the historical under-reporting by Asian groups mentioned.2 Let us consider each of these issues in turn. In terms of statistical accuracy, crimes in Britain are generally represented in terms of rates of incidence so that an idea about the vulnerability of victims can be assessed. However, in the Oldham case racially motivated incidents, rates of incidence have not been publicized but rather it is the raw figures that have been presented. If rates are considered then you are still five times more likely as an Asian person in Oldham to be racially attacked than if you are White. Obviously focusing solely on the raw figures gives the appearance of White people under attack or threat. Perhaps of more concern is the way that the data were collected and the subjective view of racism which is utilized. Racial incidents have begun to be recorded by police and they collect data where there is a perception by the victim or by the officer concerned that there was a racial motivation. In the Oldham case it appears that if a White person is the victim of mugging or affray, which involves an Asian, this is recorded by the police as a racial incident. The most worrying evidence of this was the much-highlighted attack by Asian youth on a 76-year-old White man in Oldham.3 The media sensationalized this case as a racially motivated attack and it was recorded as such by the police. However, the family of the man actually protested at this definition and said that it was a mugging like any other. This raises the difficult question of defining when an attack is racially motivated. Under current British legislation (the Race Relations Act 1976 and Amendment 2000), any form of discrimination on the basis of race, nationality or ethnicity is unlawful. This has been translated into a subjective definition in practice, where if one perceives that they have been racially discriminated against then it should be taken as such. However, the problem arises when trying to develop this further in law, as there is always some requirement for some corroborating evidence. In this sense some definition is therefore required of racism that does not rely on motivation or perception. It is here that the law runs into difficulties and actually the recording of racial incidents becomes meaningless in terms of actual prosecutions (currently under 1%).


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The release of statistics that supposedly show racist attacks against White people to be greater than that against Asian, with no explanation or transparency about data collection, has set up the Asian community as a target for a White backlash. It was after the release of these figures and a media furore about White people feeling persecuted and under attack, that the BNP began a major recruitment campaign in the area and the party’s leader decided to stand as member of parliament (announced only in March 2001). It is for these reasons that it can be argued that the police had a role in perpetrating the violence in Oldham. Segregation and Integration If the policy response on policing was weak there was one idea that came through strong and clear from all of the reports—that of segregation. First bandied about by Herman Ouseley in a report on the state of community relations in Bradford; Community Pride Not Prejudice (Ouseley Report, 2001), commissioned and written before the Bradford disturbances, is theoretically misguided. Moreover it introduced the idea of segregation—no doubt borrowed from the USA—as the reason behind the social problems of Bradford. The logic that then ensued was that housing segregation has led to educational segregation and this leads to mistrust. Central to this is a link between housing and segregation, a focus on spatial segregation simply relating to racial segregation. As Amin states:
Both the Ouseley (2001) Report on community fragmentation in Bradford and the Home Office (2001) Report Building Cohesive Communities on the disturbances in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford, have identified ethnic segregation as a major long term cause of the disturbances. Both highlight the long drift towards self-segregation among working class Asians and Whites, barricaded in their own neighbourhoods, socialised through enclave ethnic cultures (Muslim or White preservationist), and educated in local schools of virtually no ethnic mixture . . . . These are the forces that have led to inter-cultural intolerance of a highly ethnicised nature, in a public realm of relinquished commitment to the commons. (Amin, 2002: 6)

Amin goes on to note correctly how segregation discourse has focused too much on Asians as segregated from Whites, rather then the process of Whites segregating from racialized groups. Kundnani makes this point fairly clearly:
The fear of racial harassment meant that most Asians sought the safety of their own areas, in spite of the overcrowding, the damp and dingy houses, the claustrophobia of a community penned in. And with Whites in a rush to flee the ghettos, property prices were kept low, giving further encouragement to Asians to seek to buy their own cheap homes in these areas. (2001: 107)

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Thus a common-sense cursory glance at the towns where the riots took place will say: “look, these people do not live together and therefore this is the reason they do not get on and therefore riot”. This almost comically simple notion has become a thesis that is reflected both in the popular press and the policy reviews. Who Is Segregated? By assuming that segregation is the problem what is revealed is the lack of depth in historical terms of social policy thinking as reflected in the main reports into the disturbances of last year. For those reports young people in these northern towns are almost pathologically segregated in need of a healthy dose of “attitude and behaviour change”. There is clearly a lack of understanding of the lives of young people in Britain. The fact that there is a common popular culture and a common language related to media and music is largely ignored. More importantly all the young people in those town who were engaged in violence were certainly educated if not born in Britain. And if this is so are they not all subject to the vicissitudes of the National Curriculum. This is not a question of how well they have been taught or whether they attended school or not, but rather that there is a common set of engagements. Furthermore, what does the National Curriculum teach them early on in their life? Well, in history about British history and in geography about the UK. There are other aspects of world history and comparative geography but the core element that should be common to all schools consists of these factors. Now it is another debate as to whether this kind of National Curriculum has many merits, but just to point out that this is the common received knowledge from the comprehensive education system as it stands in the UK presently and has done for the last decade or so. It is therefore surprising that after reading in some detail the reports into the civic disturbances in England’s northern towns that the central reason for this unrest was segregation. The Cantle Report (2001) goes as far as to say:
The complete separation of communities based on religion, education, housing, culture, employment, will however mean that the lack of contact with and absence of knowledge about, each other’s communities will lead to the growth of fear and conflict. (2001: 30)

I have emphasized the words culture and knowledge because as previously cited research has shown most young people in urban areas in Britain share a popular culture—one that is dominated by music, TV and other forms of media. The second point of “absence of knowledge” needs further clarification. Now clearly White communities know very little about BME communities in this country and if this had been stated it would have merely


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restated the facts, but absence of knowledge for the authors of these reports implies that this is about each other. If this is combined with the emphasis on English language learning then we actually know who the target is of the “lack of knowledge”. So the National Curriculum teaches children nothing about British history and geography? Blatantly wrong when it comes to young people educated in Britain and mostly involved in throwing stones. Even in schools where the population is made up of 90 percent of one minority ethnic group, where all the children speak no English when they go to primary school, by the end of their first year the language spoken by the children with each other is English. The curriculum they are taught is predominantly about Britain and Europe. This is the case even in those schools who attempt to place that history in its global context. Balanced against this confusion over segregation is the matter that these reports are, in total, four large, well-resourced and well-researched documents, and that they have a clarity in terms of the core issues. In each document housing, education and employment, key indicators of social well-being, key areas in which young BME people are discriminated against and not given fair opportunities, all of these are broadly outlined. It is true that the issue of policing is not dealt with in a sufficient manner but apart from that, most major areas of policy are dealt with in detail and with recommendations. Indeed, in all the major social policy areas there was no dearth of good ideas (this is distinct from the sections regarding relationship with the police, which might be anticipated in the post-McPherson environment). When it comes to housing the Oldham inquiry was bold in its directive that there should be mass slum clearance and new build, citing that at the present rate it would take about 1000 years to clear poor housing. In the area of education the Cantle report, following from the local reports, put forward a recommendation that the intake of Christian denominational schools should include 25 percent of mixed ethnic background pupils. It is clear that single faith schools, be they Church of England or Catholic, are another bastion of segregation that has not been challenged too often. Of course the suspicion is that this was mainly done because of the recent creation of state-funded Islamic schools. However, bad intentions can sometimes produce good results. Almost a year has passed since these reports were published and in the case of the more bold and innovative recommendations little has been heard. In fact when any substantial inquiry is made about the implementation of the reports the response is all too similar: our hands are tied. In housing it is not possible to engage in slum clearance and building because local authorities do not have the power or resources to build social housing. The mainstay of social housing is now a reliance on private contractors to

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build affordable housing and the overstretched Housing Corporations through housing associations. A similar set of barriers is encountered when tackling the issue of education. Any intervention in terms of the pupil population of a school contravenes the parental and governors’ rights to choose who attends their schools. This is most prominent in the faith sector, and any change would need to be legislated. And so it now becomes clearer why segregation has become so important. Where other major policy changes are bound by legislation and are difficult to achieve, blaming the communities for self-segregating is easy. Blaming young people for being angry. Blaming Asian Muslims for being too different. Pointing the finger in this way is an attractive option as there is no restriction on what can be done, because it is not the government of institutions that need to do the doing. As the Oldham Inquiry bluntly states in its opening paragraphs:
There is a willingness to put responsibility onto the shoulders of officialdom which too easily can be a reason for people not to shape up to their own responsibilities, beginning with their own attitudes. (2001: 4)

Change becomes incumbent on those who have been left out and let down by institutions. But who are those who need to change and does the idea of segregation help in enhancing social justice or racial equality? Utopian Cohesion Segregation is in itself an odd idea with an odder policy solution: cohesion. So basically by people mixing more with each other, the issues of poor housing, unemployment and lack of qualifications will somehow go away and perhaps more specifically the issues of poor policing and intrusions by right-wing groups suddenly vanish. Explaining these things in terms of segregation is not only bizarre it is insulting. On an even more practical level people who have ever been involved with housing will tell you that neighbour disputes between people who know each other very well can be awful regardless of the ethnicity, faith, gender or any other social marker of the protagonists concerned. Segregation is not seen as an issue in Birmingham or Leicester even though these share demographic profiles with Oldham and Bradford, though this is perhaps more to do with those cities about to become majority non-White rather than any attempts at making segregation an issue. And let us be completely frank, the deepest mode of segregation that operates in Britain but does not get at all explored in detail in any of the reports is along the lines of class. The population that is most able to selfsegregate and move to where the best schools are is the middle and upper


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class of this country and that segregation has been exacerbated in the last 20 years. The startling statistics about Oldham, Burnley and Bradford are not those about the concentration of BME groups but it is the segregation of White working-class from White middle-class communities. This is a time when there is almost no connection between these two groups other than through local authorities and the voluntary sector where middle-class local authority workers interact with deprived neighbourhoods. However, this type of broad application of the idea of segregation goes far beyond the scope of present thinking and this is primarily because there is a level of dishonesty involved. And this revolves around who really is doing the segregating and at whom all of this policy is aimed. If segregation is the problem then why is the term cohesion used as the policy response? This is an obfuscation that was usefully swept aside by the Home Office, the ministry that has sponsored much of the response to the disturbances. Even though this shows incredibly narrow vision at least David Blunkett was honest enough to provide the real response to segregation and that of course is integration. And when we talk of integration the population that is being talked about and those who are accused of selfsegregating are Britain’s Black/Asian Muslim population. We Have Been Here Before
Integration is not as a flattening out process of assimilation but as equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance. (Jenkins, 1967) But to ensure that we sustain the positive contribution of migration to our social well-being and economic prosperity, we need to manage it properly and build firmer foundations on which integration with diversity can be achieved. (David Blunkett, 2002: 2)

Thirty-five years separate these two quotes from two Labour ministers. Roy Jenkins was talking in the aftermath of a general election victory for Labour in which Enoch Powell and others had played the race card in a callous manner. Thirty-five years ago Jenkins talked about drenching them in the English language to ensure integration and about a tough policy on immigration to ensure tolerance at home. Nothing seems to have changed. Blunkett’s words are taken from a report titled Secure Borders, Safe Haven, which is dubbed as an immigration White Paper. One of the rationales for its production is the problem of fractured and divided communities that are seen as key to the riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford. Indeed echoing Jenkins the report is subtitled “Integration with Diversity in Modern Britain”. But there is not much that is modern about this report, rather Blunkett’s ideas actually show not only a lack of vision but a paucity of clear thinking.

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This is perhaps most vividly shown in the bizarre though common conflation of immigration with problems of social integration. However, very few of the young men who were engaged in civil disturbances in Oldham and Burnley were immigrants. This is a crucial point to understand and to take on board. According to the PSI survey, over 50 percent of BME communities are now born in Britain and that this is of course set to increase. Indeed the 2001 Census should finally explode this notion. So the question has to again be asked: why is the issue of immigration so closely linked in with what were clearly local populations upset with the way they have historically been treated by the police, upset by the presence of the far right on their doorstep and who find their religion generally vilified by the public at large? Social issues were at the heart of the disturbances, long-standing grievances that have been resilient to change. Yet Blunkett’s response is that arranged marriages, spending too much time abroad and having substantial links overseas are barriers to integration. Now I have no problem with the term integration because at least it asks what it is that we want communities to integrate into. And perhaps we could then ask the well established gay community in Manchester, the disenfranchised White communities up and down the country, the Welsh speakers, the new age travellers, the Conservatives and what is left of the Socialists whether they could subscribe to these core values. Yet what these core values might look like is avoided by all of the reports. This is something that should be open to debate according to the Cantle Report. Indeed the only thing they agree on is that it is important for all people to have a grasp of the English language. But I always thought language acquisition was a skill not a value. This type of confusion reigns supreme in the new land of community cohesion. It would have been better if the new policy directives focused on the still elusive matters of social justice and equality. Instead we are presented with the scenario of riots and reports with little prospect of far reaching and fundamental change. Notes
1. Police deny “no-go zones” for Whites. BBC World Service: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/ english/uk/newsid_1285000/1285085.stm 2. See http://www.cre.gov.uk 3. Saturday 21 April 2001: Asian schoolboys attack 76-year-old war veteran, Walter Chamberlain. The attack provokes far right extremists from other parts of Britain to become involved in war of rhetoric.

[30] References

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Amin, A. (2002) Ethnicity and the Multicultural City: Living with Diversity. Draft report for the ESRC Cities Programme and The Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR). January. Available at: http://www.cwis.livjim.ac.uk/cities/papers/ ash_amin.pdf Burnley Task Force Report (2001) 11 December. Available at: http://www.burnleytaskforce.org.uk/reports/taskforcereport.pdf Cantle, T. (2001) Community Cohesion: A Report of the Independent Review Team. London: Home Office. Denham, L. (2001) Building Cohesive Communities: A Report of the Ministerial Group on Public Order and Community Cohesion. London: Home Office. Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., Clarke, J. and Roberts, B. (1978) Policing the Crises: Mugging, the State and Law and Order. London: Macmillan. Hewitt, R. (1996) Routes of Racism. London: Trentham Books. Kundnani, A. (2001) “From Oldham to Bradford: The Violence of the Violated”, Race and Class 43(2): 105–31. Oldham Independent Review (2001) 11 December. Available at: http://image.guardian.co.uk/ sys-files/Guardian/documents/2001/12/11/Oldhamindependentreview.pdf Ouseley Report (2001) Community Pride Not Prejudice. Bradford City Council. Parekh, B. (2000) Rethinking Multiculturalism. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Runnymede Trust (2000) The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain: The Parekh Report. London: Profile Books.

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