Ray Honeyford – is he still Boris Johnson’s hero?

Today’s Daily Telegraph has an editorial endorsing the views of the late Ray Honeyford, the former Bradford head teacher whose racist statements were widely condemned in the 1980s.

According to the Telegraph, Honeyford merely “believed that multiculturalism was doing a disservice to children from immigrant backgrounds, who were denied the benefits of full integration with the society into which they would grow up”. The editorial denounces the “vilification of Mr Honeyford”, which supposedly “played into the hands of extremists seeking to foment discord, such as Abu Qatada”. It claims that the lesson to be drawn from the controversy is that “shutting down debate about cultural assimilation is short-sighted and dangerous”.

These arguments are no doubt familiar to Telegraph readers. Back in 2006 one of the paper’s columnists wrote an article that took a similar line on Honeyford and multiculturalism. In an attack on the then Labour home secretary the columnist wrote:

… here is how John Reid could prove that he was really tough. Here is the bravest thing he could possibly say. He should say that the real problem in our society, and the reason we have so many disaffected and alienated Muslim youths, is that for a generation he and people like him supported the disastrous multicultural agenda. The reason that 40 per cent of British Muslims would like some form of Sharia law in this country is that the Left has traditionally deprecated British institutions and even the teaching of English. A truly brave John Reid would now publicly grovel to Ray Honeyford, the Bradford head who called for teaching in English and who was vilified and persecuted by the Left.

Who, I hear you ask, was the author of this dreadful, reactionary piece? It was in fact none other than the present mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

It is not as though Johnson could claim ignorance of Honeyford’s actual views. The notorious article “Education and Race – an Alternative View” which Honeyford published in the Salisbury Review in 1984 had helpfully been reproduced by the Telegraph a few months earlier.

In this appalling article Honeyford did not just call for integration or assimilation, as the Telegraph editorial claims, but expressed open hostility to the very existence of non-white minority communities of recent migrant origin within the UK. He claimed to expose “the real educational consequences of the general acceptance of the notion that multi-racial inner cities are not only inevitable but, in some sense, desirable”.

Reporting on a meeting with Bradford Asian parents to discuss education policy, Honeyford wrote: “The hysterical political temperament of the Indian sub-continent became evident – an extraordinary sight in an English School Hall…. A half-educated and volatile Sikh usurped the privileges of the chair by deciding who was to speak.”

Honeyford did not restrict his racist stereotyping to British citizens of South Asian origin but extended it to the African-Caribbean community.

He claimed that “educational ambition and the values to support it” were “conspicuously absent” in “the vast majority of West Indian homes”. He sneered that: “‘Cultural enrichment’ is the approved term for the West Indian’s right to create an ear splitting cacophony for most of the night to the detriment of his neighbour’s sanity, or for the Notting Hill Festival [sic] whose success or failure is judged by the level of street crime which accompanies it.”

Understandably, Honeyford denounced as “totalitarian” the proposals by the Haringey Black Pressure Group on Education that “Schoolbooks with a racist content should be scrapped. Racist teachers should be dismissed.”

Yet this was the man who Boris Johnson hailed as a hero.

Today, no doubt, Johnson would think it politically inexpedient for the mayor of a diverse, multi-ethnic city to attack multiculturalism and express support for a bigot like Honeyford as he did in 2006. Perhaps during the hustings for this year’s London mayoral elections he should be asked how he came to write such an article in the first place – and what, other than political opportunism, has caused him to change his mind.