Is this racism?

You decide. But those of us who are not white are rather fed up with such goings-on.

From the Mirror:

Pizza Hut was accused of racism yesterday after asking a group of black professional footballers to pay in advance for their meals.

The demand was made as a table of white youngsters seated nearby were allowed to settle up after eating.

Five AFC Bournemouth players were stunned when a duty manager told them to pay up front because of "the way you lot look".

When they refused, staff claimed they were being "disruptive" and called the police.

Officers arrived at the restaurant but took no action after the players, including £2,000-a-week first-team regulars Anton Robinson, Liam Feeney and Marvin Bartley, agreed to leave.

Pizza Hut last night apologised to the League One stars and admitted they had been treated "very shabbily" but insisted there was no racism.

However, midfielder Mr Robinson, 24, said later: "The only thing that was different was the colour of our skins."

So Pizza Hut insists it wasn't racism, but the players insist it was. I know which side I'm on.

The UK is a much more tolerant and diverse country than when my father arrived here as an immigrant from India in 1966 and had dog shit posted through his letter box on a semi-regular basis. Thankfully, in 21st-century Britain, racism is less and less acceptable, less and less prevalent. But it still exists. It hasn't disappeared.

And many white Britons, even of an ultra-liberal, politically correct bent, don't quite get the impact that racist or discriminatory language or behaviour can have on people from non-white, ethnic-minority backgrounds.

Often, the racism isn't intended or deliberate, and the person causing offence will get rather upset or annoyed if their words or deeds are pointed out to them. But it's not just far-right, tatooed bigots who discriminate against ethnic minorities. Yet those of us who are non-white are often dismissed as thin-skinned or over-sensitive, or lacking in a sense of humour. We are accused, by the right-wing media, in particular, of inhabiting a "victim culture" in which we supposedly "cry" racism, with the support and encouragement of the "race relations industry".

But how many of you will ever find yourselves in the humiliating position of the black person in a restaurant who is treated differently from the white customers? How many of you know what that's like or how it feels? How many of you have been stopped and searched hundreds of times, as this black adviser to the Met Police was?

How many of you spent three years, as I did at university, being stopped and asked for ID on countless occasions, and for no apparent reason, as I tried to enter my own Oxford college? Christ Church, where I did my degree, has porters stationed at each entrance to ensure that tourists don't get in to the college without paying an entrance fee by pretending to be undergraduates. But I was at Christ Church for three years – didn't they realise, after the first few stops, that I was a student there? On several occasions, I entered the college with a group of fellow students, all white and all of whom were allowed to pass by the porters while I was stopped and asked to produce my college photo card.

I'm not pretending it's the same as being refused service in a restaurant, or being stopped and searched by the police, or being denied voting rights, and it might seem like a trivial matter to those of you who haven't been on the receiving end of such behaviour, but it's the kind of frustrating experience that sticks in the minds of those of us who happen to be non-white but feel as British and as integrated as the next man (or woman).

On a related note, it's rather disturbing to see that Oxbridge colleges have failed miserably in their alleged attempts to diversify their intake and admit non-white students, black teenagers in particular. According to information revealed, via FoI requests, to the (black) Labour MP David Lammy, 21 Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black students last year. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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"Michael Gove is a nasty bit of work": A Thatcherite's lonely crusade for technical colleges

Kenneth Baker, Margaret Thatcher's education secretary, has been in a war of words with one of his successors. 

When I meet Kenneth Baker, once Margaret Thatcher’s reforming education secretary, conversation quickly turns to an unexpected coincidence. We are old boys of the same school: a sixth-form college in Southport that was, in Baker’s day, the local grammar. Fittingly for a man enraged by the exclusion of technical subjects from the modern curriculum, he can only recall one lesson: carpentry.

Seven decades on, Lord Baker – who counts Sats, the national curriculum, league tables, and student loans among his innovations – is still preoccupied with technical education. His charity, the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, oversees university technical colleges (UTCs), the specialist free schools that work with businesses and higher education institutions to provide a vocational curriculum for students aged 14-19. He is also a working peer, and a doughty evangelist for technical education and apprenticeships in the upper chamber. 

But when we meet at the charity’s glass-panelled Westminster office at 4 Millbank, he is on the defensive – and with good reason. Recent weeks have been particularly unkind to the project that, aged 82, he still works full-time to promote. First, a technical college in Oldham, Greater Manchester, became the seventh to close its doors since 2015. In three years, not one of its pupils passed a single GCSE, and locals complained it had become a “dumping ground” for the most troubled and disruptive children from Oldham’s other schools (Baker agrees, and puts the closure down to “bad governorship and bad headship”). 

Then, with customary chutzpah, came Michael Gove. In the week of the closure, the former education secretary declared in his Times column that the UTCs project had failed. "The commonest error in politics," he wrote, quoting Lord Salisbury, "is sticking to the carcasses of dead policies". Baker is now embroiled in a remarkable – and increasingly bitter – war of words with his successor and one-time colleague.

It wasn't always this way. In 2013, with UTCs still in their infancy, he told the New Statesman the then education secretary was “a friend”, despite their disagreements on the curriculum. The bonhomie has not lasted. In the course of our hour-long conversation, Gove is derided as “a nasty bit of work”, “very vindictive”, “completely out of touch”, and “Brutus Gove and all the rest of it”. (Three days after we speak, Baker renews their animus with a blistering op-ed for The Telegraph, claiming Gove embraced UTCs about as warmly as “an undertaker”.)

In all of this, Gove, who speaks warmly of Baker, has presented himself as having been initially supportive of the project. He was, after all, the education secretary who gave them the green light. Not so, his one-time colleague says. While David Cameron (Baker's former PA) and George Osborne showed pragmatic enthusiasm, Gove “was pretty reluctant from the word go”.

“Gove has his own theory of education,” Baker tells me. He believes Gove is in thrall to the American educationalist E.D. Hirsch, who believes in focusing on offering children a core academic diet of subjects, whatever their background. "He doesn’t think that schools should worry about employability at all," Baker says. "He thinks as long as you get the basic education right, everything will be fine. That isn’t going to happen – it isn’t how life works!" 

Baker is fond of comparing Gove’s heavily academic English baccalaureate to the similarly narrow School Certificate he sat in 1951, as well as the curriculum of 1904 (there is seldom an interview with Baker that doesn’t feature this comparison). He believes his junior's divisive tenure changed the state sector for the worse: “It’s appalling what’s happening in our schools! The squeezing out of not only design and technology, but drama, music, art – they’re all going down at GCSE, year by year. Now children are just studying a basic eight subjects. I think that’s completely wrong.” 

UTCs, with their university sponsors, workplace ethos (teaching hours coincide with the standard 9-5 working day and pupils wear business dress), and specialist curricula, are Baker's solution. The 46 existing institutions teach 11,500 children, and there are several notable success stories. GCHQ has opened a cyber-security suite at the UTC in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, as part of a bid to diversify its workforce. Just 0.5 per cent of UTC graduates are unemployed, compared to 11.5 per cent of all 18-year-olds. 

But they are not without their critics. Teaching unions have complained that their presence fragments education provision and funding, and others point out that hard-up schools in disadvantaged areas have little desire or incentive to give up children – and the funding they bring – at 14. Ofsted rate twice as many UTCs as inadequate as they do outstanding. Gove doubts that the vocational qualifications on offer are as robust as their academic equivalents, or anywhere near as attractive for middle-class parents. He also considers 14 is too young an age for pupils to pursue a specialist course of vocational study.

Baker accepts that many of his colleges are seen as “useless, wastes of money, monuments to Baker’s vanity and all the rest of it”, but maintains the project is only just finding its legs. He is more hopeful about the current education secretary, Justine Greening, who he believes is an admirer. Indeed, UTCs could provide Greening with a trump card in the vexed debate over grammar schools – last year’s green paper suggested pupils would be able to join new selective institutions at 14, and Baker has long believed specialist academic institutions should complement UTCs.

Discussion of Theresa May’s education policy has tended to start and finish at grammar schools. But Baker believes the conversation could soon be dominated by a much more pressing issue: the financial collapse of multi-academy trusts and the prospect of an NHS-style funding crisis blighting the nation’s schools. Although his city technology colleges may have paved the way for the removal of more and more schools from the control of local authorities, he, perhaps surprisingly, defends a connection to the state.

“What is missing now in the whole education system is that broker in the middle, to balance the demands of education with the funds available," he says. "I think by 2020 all these multi-academy trusts will be like the hospitals... If MATs get into trouble, their immediate cry will be: ‘We need more money!’ We need more teachers, we need more resources, and all the rest of it!’."

It is clear that he is more alert to coming challenges, such as automation, than many politicians half his age. Halfway through our conversation, he leaves the room and returns enthusiastically toting a picture of an driverless lorry. It transpires that this Thatcherite is even increasingly receptive to the idea of the ultimate state handout: a universal basic income. “There’s one part of me that says: ‘How awful to give someone a sum for doing nothing! What are they going to do, for heaven’s sake, for Christ’s sake!’" he says. "But on the other hand, I think the drawback to the four-day working week or four-hour working day... I think it’s going to happen in your lifetime. If people are only working for a very short space of time, they will have to have some sort of basic income.” 

Predictably, the upshot of this vignette is that his beloved UTCs and their multi-skilled graduates are part of the solution. Friend and foe alike praise Baker’s indefatigable dedication to the cause. But, with the ranks of doubters growing and the axe likely to fall on at least one of its institutions again, it remains to be seen in what form the programme will survive.

Despite the ignominy of the last few weeks, however, Baker is typically forthright: “I sense a turning of the tide in our way now. But I still fight. I fight for every bloody one.”