Britain is winning the fight against racism. Photo: Getty
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Britain is becoming less racist

Demographic change is defeating racism, and racial prejudice is particularly rare among university graduates.

“If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.” So said a slogan used by the Conservative party candidate Peter Griffiths 50 years ago.

And it worked, too. In the 1964 general election, there was a three per cent swing to Labour. In Smethwick in the West Midlands – the seat which Griffiths contested – there was a seven per cent swing recorded in favour of the Conservatives.

Such an appeal to racism could only have worked if the electorate had racist tendencies. At the time, Smethwick had the highest concentration of recent immigrants of any county borough in England. Most people did not like it. As Dominic Sandbrook’s history of Britain in the 1960s White Heat notes, in Smethwick “Most pubs excluded black drinkers from their lounge bars, and some barbers even refused to cut their hair.”

Britain has come a long way since. But there are concerns that economic uncertainty is leading to a hardening of racial attitudes.

That was the backdrop for this year’s British Social Attitudes Survey. It found a small upturn in self-reported racial prejudice, from 26 per cent in 2012 to 30 per cent in 2013. The results were published a week after Ukip’s victory in the European elections; predictably, the two were linked together as evidence of a rise in British racism.

It is not a narrative that stands up to scrutiny: 38 per cent of respondents to the BSA Survey in 2011 reported to feeling racial prejudice so the figure in both the last two years has shown a significant drop. An analysis of attitudes to racial intermarriage by Rob Ford, published this week, also reveals a far more positive picture. While almost half of those born before 1950 oppose marriage between black and white people, only 14 per cent of those born since 1980 do. Opposition to marriage between white people and Muslims has fallen from 66 per cent to 28 per cent among the different age groups.

It suggests a country that has become far less racist. And it is a trend that demographics may be accelerating. Only 25 per cent of those born after 1980 admit to harbouring racial prejudice, a lower percentage than all older generations.

Racial prejudice is particularly rare among the better educated. Just 19 per cent of graduates admitted to racial prejudice, compared with 38 per cent of those without qualifications; one legacy of the fabled target of sending 50 per cent of school leavers to university is to make racism less pronounced – or, at the very least, less acceptable. Unsurprisingly, graduates are also significantly more likely to hold favourable attitudes to immigration than everyone else.

None of this is to deny that fundamental racial inequalities remain in Britain today. Ethnic minorities make up 12.9 per cent of the UK population but just 4.2 per cent of MPs. In 2010, ethnic minorities were three times less likely to vote than white Britons. But even in these areas, progress is being made: groups like Operation Black Vote and TickIT are working to increase voter registration. There have never been more ethnic minority MPs.

At a time when America’s racial problems are flaring up once more, Britain’s progress, though not complete, should be a cause for celebration. After all, 2014 saw the BNP lose their representation in the European Parliament.  

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era