Boris: my part in his first disaster

On 18 May, the Voice newspaper published an article of mine. I write a fortnightly column in that paper, largely conversational and, I hope, rather mellow in tone, alternating with my regular contributions to these pages.

In that particular column, I informed readers that I would be leaving shortly for a holiday in Barbados, to join "a tight coterie of returnees" on Enterprise Beach in the parish of Christ Church. And that these returnees had spent decades in England and were now enjoying their final years in the country of their birth.

I went on to outline what I would discuss with the returnees during my daily visits to the beach. I would outline the manner of Ken Livingstone's defeat and describe the kind of regime that might exist under the new Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, a right-wing Conservative "who might just trigger off a mass exodus of older Caribbean migrants back to our homelands".

I closed the column as follows: "I won't leave my fellow Caribbeans in a state of depression. I will alert them to the fact that our communities are poised to reply with hot blasts of revolt. A new period dawns. We shall rise to the challenge as we have always done . . ."

I have gone into some detail because these words, simply and straightforwardly written, led to the Johnson regime's first disaster.

Marc Wadsworth, a broadcaster, writer and activist on race issues (he initiated the Stephen Lawrence campaign) read the Voice article. In an interview with James McGrath, Boris's political strategist, he raised the issue of older folk from the Caribbean returning to their "homelands" because of the perception in the black communities that the new regime was tainted with racism.

McGrath was hot and ready with his reply: "Well, let them go if they don't like it here." We have heard similar sentiments from the lips of any common racist: "Go back to where you came from."

Calls for McGrath's resignation were stubbornly resisted by the mayor, I am told, until David Cameron intervened and called on Boris to rid his regime of this stench of decay. McGrath was forced to go. His defence was rather feeble: McGrath's words, said the mayor, had been misinterpreted, taken out of context.

I saw this coming from day one. Boris's campaign chose the recalcitrant Lee Jasper as the stick to beat the hell out of multiculturalism. His victory confirmed - or so he thought - the end of multiculturalism, with adverse consequences for our communities.

At the moment of victory, his political strategists could not contain themselves. Rise, the anti-racist event held each summer in north London and run by the Greater London Authority, could not be cancelled. Jimmy Cliff and the other musical acts had already been contracted. So Boris's office decided that in future the festival would have to drop its anti-racist message. This year, it is to be about "celebrating diversity" only.

Not that Rise was a call for revolution. It merely reflected the mood and moments. Yet even this harmless affair could not be tolerated under Boris's new regime.

Already, the mayor has threatened a military offensive against young blacks - a hundred boot camps all over London. And I am sure that McGrath will be back in some form or fashion. Possibly Boris will contract his strategist's duties out to some consultancy. I wonder who that consultant will be?

I have no doubt, none whatsoever, that Boris's regime will pursue this hostility to the black community relentlessly. Sometimes it will be overtly and at other times it will be covertly. The bee resides permanently in his bonnet.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 30 June 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Thou shalt not hug