Sunday, 7 October 2007

What England Means To Me

Hot on the heels of England's Rugby triumph and the victories of Amir Khan and (hopefully) Lewis Hamilton. Here's my requested contribution to 'What England Means to Me' - A Domesday Book of the Mind

In 2003 British Asian writer, lecturer and broadcaster Kenan Malik met and interviewed BNP leader Nick Griffin for Malik’s critique of multicultural Britain in the Channel 4 documentary ‘Disunited Kingdom’. He started off by asking Griffin to define ‘English culture’. His reply was ‘You can’t describe it, you just know it….its like being in love, you either are or you are not’(1). Not only is this the mother of all cop outs on behalf of Nick Griffin, a man who attempts to vehemently defend and protect something he cannot even define from dirty foreign influence, but in itself it says something about English culture. English culture is something that is difficult to describe, but not for the reasons that Nick Griffin gives. English culture is indefinable for the very fact that it is an open ended, living entity. The English culture of today is not the English culture of the 50s, as the English culture of the 50s was not the English culture of the nineteenth century.

For Nick Griffin would look at the example of curry becoming the national dish as a sign of weakness within English culture, a sign of loss. However the English are merely doing as they’ve always done. That is seamlessly assimilating something foreign into its entity without losing its own identity, and even reinventing itself in the process. By the time of the mid 1990s the new movement of British musicians were deliberately recreating a form of music that to most seemed as English as Yorkshire pudding, as a backlash to American dominance of pop culture. The irony didn’t seem to dawn on others that while they were trying to ape the Beatles, back in 1963 they and all their ‘yeah yeah yeahs’ were the epitome of Americanization within England.
In fact Liverpool’s ascendancy to being the first city of British rock and roll was no accident. The Maritime city of Liverpool had many sailors who had made frequent trips to America often bringing back records that the rest of the country couldn’t get hold of. Also a major part of Merseybeat that has had a lasting effect on the culture of the city is the adoption of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, number one hit for scouser Gerry Marsden in 1963, as its unofficial anthem. However this Rogers and Hammerstein number originates from the Broadway musical ‘carousel’, not the pen of any Liverpudlian wordsmith.

Also as a direct result of the Britpop movement of the 90s, the ‘Mod’ culture of the 1960s had come to be defined as the archetypal English cultural style. This is despite the fact that it was heavily influenced by black culture, particularly black American and West Indian music and style, which had came to Britain with the migrant populations. As explained by Paolo Hewitt ‘as second generation Caribbeans moved deeper into British society…Braces, pork-pie hats and the return of the Crombie coat were some of the clothing items that were taken from the Rude Boy by his white counterpart’(2).

This is not the only part of English pop culture that has been taken from the New World Blacks. A vital part of the birth of white sock wearing Essex man with his Escort XR3i complete with furry dice was on the dance floors of the Lacy Lady or Goldmine nightclubs. The Essex Soul Boy scene was built with a soundtrack straight out of Black America. As is the case with today’s most famous Essex man – David Beckham. In his 2005 Channel 4 documentary ‘Black like Beckham’, British afro-caribbean journalist Paul McKenzie refers to this modern day icon of Englishness as ‘Britain’s most famous black man’ because of his incorporation of ‘Black’ Urban style and culture within his public persona. McKenzie states that in turn Beckham has ‘got black style and he’s accepted by black people as a hero’(3). Not only is this something that only the soft southern soul boys did, in the 1970s an entire culture of 24 hour party people sprung up across the north of England, playing obscure soul tunes by obscure soul singers. From the dance floors of the Wigan Casino and the Flaming Torch in Stoke came ‘Northern Soul’, an entire genre of Black American music whose sole definition is a geographical reference to the part of England where it finds its popularity. This despite the fact that barely any English Northerners played a note on those records!

This is also not a phenomenon of the 20th/21st centuries, even William Shakespeare did this back in his day. A quick browse through Shakespeare’s complete works shows settings such as Florence and Marseille in All’s Well That Ends Well, Athens in ‘Mid Summer Nights Dream’, Verona in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and of course the self explanatory ‘Merchant of Venice’. Shakespeare had used the imagery of cultures foreign to England, the result of which centuries later is that his work epitomizes ‘English culture’ in the eyes of others around the globe.

The main conclusion that we can come to here is that the English are among the most misrepresented peoples on earth. Far from being the insular conservative reactionaries that we are often portrayed we are among the most receptive of peoples on god’s earth. People often note the rudeness and bad behaviour of English tourists and yet not only fail to note that this is a minority of people who get disproportionate coverage, but also the fact that once a European holiday came within the financial means of most English people a caravanning holiday on Canvey Island or St. Osyth was never going to cut it ever again. In fact over one million people from the British Isles have emigrated around the med, so contempt of foreigners surely cannot run that deep.The high number of people who emigrated from these shores have recently been misconstrued by the right wing press as a sign of decline and, even more ridiculously, because so many foreigners are coming here. Again the English are doing what they’ve always done, emigration out of Britain was higher than immigration into to Britain for over 300 years, England has after all repopulated entire continents in its time. This had only changed in the 1980s because countries such as Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the U.S., who had always received immigrants from Britain started to restrict our entry. In essence the English are a people that do not believe that the world ends at the white cliffs of Dover and that rather than shut the world out would rather see what it has got to offer.

This is isn’t the only part of England’s historical culture that the right wing has misconstrued, for when the least pleasant of those who follow the fortunes of our national Football side are singing ‘with St. George in my heart keep me English’, they might want to dwell on who St. George actually was. He was non-white Palestinian born in Modern day Turkey and a soldier of the Roman Empire, who had not even set foot in England. The reason for his sainthood is that in 303AD the emperor of Rome had authorized the systematic persecution of all Christians across the whole empire. George was ordered to participate in the persecution but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticized the imperial decision, which in turn lead to his torture and execution. George is also the patron saint of Aragon, Canada, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, Russia, Palestine and also the cities of Genoa, Beirut, Ljubljana, Freiburg and Moscow. So why is George the patron saint of England then? The answer to that one is simple – the actions and ideals of the man meant more than his place of birth.

And that Mr. Griffin, is the explanation to the secret to England’s culture, and why that culture is so enduring. If you take into account that an incredible number of the world’s inventions came from these shores, you know that the English have always appreciated the merits of a good idea, regardless of where it came from. After all we would not have been able to have stayed ahead of the game for as long as we have if we did not. Also the title of this site says it all – a doomsday book of the mind. William the Conqueror was not English at all, he was born in modern day France. The fact that he came here and invaded us should fill us with revulsion if we were anywhere near the Daily Mail stereotype of what we are. The fact we took on board a lot of what he brought speaks volumes about the English and what the English actually are.


2) Hewitt, Paolo, The Soul Stylists: Forty Years of Modernism, Mainstream Publishing 2000:76


Wednesday, 3 October 2007

The Windrush Myth

On the 22nd June 1948 the Empire Windrush had docked at Tilbury in Essex and the official history of Britain prior to this date is thus defined as B.C. (Before Colour).

This is an inaccurate picture of British history and quite why it has become part of historical fact is an interesting question On the one hand it is about romanticism, like the America's Mayflower bringing pilgrims to a new world and the birth of a new nation. On the other hand it is cynicism, an all white world that was polluted on that day in 1948 by an impure influence.

It is also myth that the 1958 Nottingham/Notting Hill Riots were Britain's first ever race riot, as there was a reported race riot in Liverpool two weeks prior to the docking of the Windrush. In 1919 there were also race riots as 'the local white population clashed with black workers and seamen, many of whom were left unemployed at the end of the war. In Cardiff, in particular, white ex-servicemen, including Australians stationed in the area, headed lynch mobs that terrorised the city's black community during a week of violence that left three men dead and dozens more injured'. (

The history of non-white migration within the U.K., although commonly believed to be a post second world war phenomena has a longer history. Many port towns and cities in the U.K. have had a pre-war non-white population, for example Liverpool, Tiger Bay in Cardiff and the East End of London. The latter (and not Soho in the West) was the site of London's original 'Chinatown' and has had a Chinese population for over 200 years. There were many reports of hostility towards Chinese migrants based in the East End in the 1800's who faced assaults, racist attacks and jibes that the Chinese were dirty and immoral.

A common accusation levelled at the East End Chinese were involvement in white-slave rackets and vice dens of Opium and gambling though 'the real Chinatown bore little resemblance to the lurid underworld of the hack writers. Opium smoking and gambling certainly did take place, but most people in Chinatown were too busy trying to make ends meet' (

Along with the Chinese inhabitants, Indian servants and nannies known as Ayahs had settled dockside because 'if they could not secure another job with India-bound passengers, they had little option but to remain in London' (O'Neil 1999:49). There had also been 'dark skinned' sailors of various backgrounds such as Somalia, Yemen, and the South Asia collectively termed 'lascars' who had 'jumped ship and stayed, putting down tentative roots which, in some cases resulted in the organic growth of a close-knit community such as that in Limehouse' (O'Neil11999:49). Lascars were taken on by the East India Company because like the Chinese and Irish immigrants of the East End, they would do hard, dirty work for lower rates than British seamen.

In earlier history of migration there had also been examples of inter-group fighting between non-white migrants, it was reported in the East End of London on October 12 1806 that there had been a riot between 300 Chinese and a group of Lascars and Irishmen that numbered around 150 (O'Neill 1999:54).

Black residents prior to the windrush had also been in positions of power, including two queens of England. Queen Phillipa of Hainault who reigned as Queen Consort from 1328-69 ( Also Queen Charlotte who reigned as Queen Consort from her marriage to King George III in 1761 to 1818, who was 'directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a black branch of the Portuguese Royal House' ( Queen Charlotte is also the Grandmother of Queen Victoria and thus blood related to the present day monarch.

And although never a resident of England, its patron saint - George of Lyddia - was also non-white. He was born in Modern Day Turkey and was of Palestinian origin.

So the influence of non-whites in Britain was felt long before 22 June 1948.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Whiteness and Britishness

What do Tracey Ullman, Lou Macari, Sharlene Spiteri, Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher, Cliff Richard, Roger Whittaker, George Michael, Daniella Nardini, Tom Conti, Ronnie Ancona, Dominic Matteo, Armando Ianucci, Lena Zavaroni, Lawrence Dallaglio, Anita Roddick, Joe Calzaghe, Dario Gradi, Cherie Lunghi, Michael Greco, Helen Mirren, John Lukic, Imre Varadi all have in common?

One answer is that they are in, one way or another famous. Another is that they are all considered famous British people. What's more, they are all famous British people who's parents migrated here from another sovereign nation since the end of world war two. And what is more there is very little recognition that any of that list are anything other than British.....oh and by the way they all happen to white.

Yet despite this very few people would have these people in mind when considering post war immigration to Britain. In fact if you asked the average 'man on the street' to name someone born in Britain to immigrant parents it is possible that the names of Lenny Henry, Frank Bruno, Cyrille Regis, Floella Benjamin or Sir Trevor McDonald may have been ahead on the list. Post-war immigration does come colour coded in most people's minds, and why? because most immigrants during this period were black? Well no, for most years post WW2 immigrants were usually white - the original immigrants in the 1940s were the displaced from the European Volunteer Workers Scheme from places such as Poland or Italy. There were many who came from the old commonwealth and former colonies in political turmoil, such as in East Africa. The biggest ethnic minority group in Britain throughout this period are the Irish.

So what can we conclude from this? When we wash away the lip service of political correctness can only white people be 'British'? Why after all can the second generation Gallaghers drape their guitars in the union flag, yet black groups like Soul II Soul or the So Solid Crew who's parents were here before Tommy and Peggy Gallagher never could? Why is New York born Boris Johnson in the running for London Mayor, despite those non-whites born in our capital city nearing 50% not getting a sniff? Why was it hard for John Barnes to convince England fans of his Englishness, yet not so hard for Owen Hargreaves?

Well one look at the history of white immigration, either past of present would tell you that being a member of the white club has certainly never been such a certainty for inclusion into 'Club Britain'.

One consideration that needs to be taken into account is the degree to which a 'white' race is one that is as socially constructed as that as 'Asian' or 'Black'. This is a point which is made by Alastair Bonnett in his essay 'constructions of whiteness in Europe and American Anti-Racism', when he stated that 'whiteness is addressed as an unproblematic category, a category which is not subject to the constant processes of challenge and change that have characterised the history of other 'racial' names…..this myth views 'being white' as an immutable condition with clear and distinct moral attributes, which often include: being racist, not experiencing racism, being an oppressor, not experiencing oppression, silencing, not being silenced. People of colour are defined via their relation to this myth….the characteristics of white people are removed from social context and set outside history and geography' (Werbner and Modood, 1997:177-8).
There must therefore be recognition that as with, for example the term 'Asian' carrying many sub-categories within it (e.g. Indian/Pakistani/Hindu/Muslim), the term 'white' carries no less uniformity.

An example usually held up by sympathisers of migrants and asylum seekers, as well as those subscribing to the school of British tolerance is the migration of Huguenots from persecution in Catholic Europe. According to Gilda O'Neil in her book 'My East End' the Hugenot migrants 'assimilated comparatively quickly such was the extent of their intermarriage with the host nation' (O'Neil 1999:18). Although the Hugenots shared a common religion with the host nation, they were not exempt from hostility. The Huguenots brought weaving skills to Britain when they arrived however the onset of the industrial revolution had made those skills obsolete due to technological advancement and competition from Mills in the North of England. The Huguenots had joined the growing ranks of low skilled workers in the East End and 'the once sought after weavers protested, their grievances spilling over into anger and eventual rioting and they became, like so many immigrant groups before and after them during tough economic times, targets for threats and violence. The tragic result of one altercation was two men being sentenced to hang outside the Salmon and Ball pub in Bethnal Green' (O'Neil 1999:19).

Britain had also experienced a number of migrants from Germany throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century. A major influx occurred between 1708-9 of around 13-15,000 Palatinate Germans who arrived in London, however many faced widespread persecution and left for Southern Ireland and North America. An example of such hostility is from newspaper reports of the era complaining about 'several poor Palatines begging about the streets….begging from door to door'

By the time of the 1891 census there were 27,000 German born London residents. Anti-German sentiments however, were still evident over a century later. When Beckton Gasworks had opened in the late nineteenth century there was much protest that a considerable number of jobs had been taken by German migrant workers. At the start of the twentieth century in Stepney (know locally as 'little Germany') there had been the formation of the 'British Brothers League' who had referred to themselves as 'a tiny band of East End Patriots'. The stated aim of this group was to 'stem, if possible the great flood of alien immigration that threatens to wash all remnants of previous English occupation of East London'.

However according to Panikos Panayi 'no immigrant minority in nineteenth and twentieth century Britain has had to endure the level of hostility faced by the Germans during the first world war'. Government and public opinion was at this time geared to 'eliminating German communities from Britain'. As the Great War escalated to the great carnage that it was, the British government had 'eventually imprisoned all German males between 16 and 70. Many were deported back to Germany, so that people who had lived in England for 50 years or more were suddenly sent back to a Germany disrupted by war. Even British wives and children were deported, although they knew no German, and had no family there!' (

The Irish had also experienced discrimination during this period, although not physically different to the indigenous population of the U.K., Irish immigrants were overwhelmingly of the Catholic faith, as opposed to Britain whose state-endorsed religion is of Protestantism. It is also fair to say that in two constituent parts of the U.K. - Scotland and Northern Ireland - who have experienced a relatively low amount of non-white migration, this sectarian divide is more socially dividing than racism. In Scotland this sectarian divide is most famous for the formation of Irish immigrant Football clubs, such as Glasgow Celtic, Dundee Harp (renamed as Dundee United) and Hibernian in Edinburgh, as a result of exclusion from indigenous clubs, particularly Glasgow Rangers.

Rangers, particularly had pursued a discriminatory policy of not employing Catholics as late as 1989, the club had signed Mark Walters - it's first non-white player eighteen months before lifting the ban on Catholics, signing former Celtic player Maurice Johnston.
Sectarianism in Scotland had much deeper social roots than separate Football clubs, the descendents of Irish migrants in Scotland were considered 'Irish' rather than Scottish or British as recent as the second world war and considered 'disloyal, disruptive, inferior and untrustworthy….in Scotland they appeared to have struggled longer than those who settled anywhere in the English speaking world' ( Irish migrants were scapegoated during the inter-war depression. The creation of the Irish Free State during this period, led to the Church of Scotland to call for the deportation of unemployed Catholics, despite many having never visited Ireland.

The Irish experience south of the border had been not much less hostile, they had been portrayed by members of the host nation as ill-mannered, less intelligent, drunken and lazy. The height of Anti-Irish sentiments had culminated in the Spitalfield Riot of 1736, in which 'poverty stricken workers were pitted against one another by employers wanting to pay the lowest rates, when the Irish under bid the locals, rioting broke out' (O'Neil 1999:56). The irony was not lost on the author of 'My East End' who stated 'the Irish were not labelled drunken lazy wastrels this time, but accused of being hard workers prepared to labour for a pittance'. The effect of Irish migration had been the accusations of keeping wages low though the desperation of poverty lead to exploitation by employers.

Throughout the post-war period, there had been a thaw in relations between white immigrants and indigenous Britons, because of the increase in non-white immigration in Britain during these years. Prakash Shah in the book 'Refugees, Race and the Legal Concept of Asylum in Britain' notes that 'Eastern Europeans in the 1950's and 60's who came to work in the U.K. were considered 'potential Britons'. The political opposition to the Eastern Bloc and 'racial acceptability' of European refugees in Britain combined to inform the reactions to further refugee movements and the institution of a further western led international agenda for refugees' (

The reaction of acceptability towards Eastern bloc asylum seekers and even regarded 'potential Britons' contrasts sharply with that of British Asian citizens from East Africa in the late 60s/early 70s, who sought refuge from the 'Africanization' policies of Kenya and Uganda. It must be noted though that there has been an increase in hostility in the post-cold war years, towards economic migration and asylum seekers from Eastern Europe, especially since the accession of Eastern European nations to the EU in 2004. Whether such hostility will outlast a generation however, or whether their offspring will be termed a 'second generation migrant' is another matter entirely.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Multiculturalism and social exclusion

In order to assess whether the policies of multiculturalism are responsible for social exclusion, the definition of the term must first be clarified. It must be noted that there is a distinct difference between a society that is 'multicultural' and one that adheres to the doctrines of 'multiculturalism'. A 'multicultural' society is described by Stuart Hall as one that is 'by definition culturally heterogeneous' (Hesse 2000:210), this term would for example be applied to describe French society, but many commentators would doubt whether France, in its continued endorsement of a common French national citizenship, could be defined as a society that adheres to 'multiculturalism'. A 'multiculturalist' society, as S. Sayyid describes in his essay 'Beyond Westphalia', is defined as one that follows 'a normative stance arising out of the recognition and celebration of the variety of cultural forms and practices that exist within the body of the nation' (Hesse 2000:33).

The philosophies of 'multiculturalism' are clearly distinct from the previous models of 'assimilation' and 'integration', that had been deployed to incorporate marginal groups into the mainstream of western societies. The assimilation model, otherwise known as 'mono-culturalism', has a central feature of insisting that all those within the marginal groups who are capable of doing so, should incorporate the traditions and customs of the dominant culture of a society. Assimilationists believe that with the removal of state-imposed restrictions and outlawing of discrimination, marginal groups would be able to follow the path of the dominant groups to prosperity. The disadvantages experienced by marginal groups in society would be explained by assimilationists as an insufficient or an inadequate degree of assimilation of the groups or individuals in question.

An integrationalist stance on the management of diversity in society, would be the 'humanist' approach of believing that individuals among such diverse groups all share a natural intellectual equality with those of mainstream society, and have more personal 'human' commonalities than ethnic or racial differences. Its goals are the levelling of barriers to association, creating equal opportunities regardless of race, and the development of a progressive culture, drawing on both mainstream traditions and those of its diverse constituents. Integrationalists also believe that cultural practices which are particular only to the groups in question should, and will eventually become more of a privatised matter for these groups.

Multiculturalism, in contrast to both of these approaches, focuses on difference as opposed to sameness between groups in society, and refutes that in doing so it disrupts the dominant western narratives, as democracy involves not merely concern with the rights of the majority, but also the marginalized. Multiculturalists claim that pluralism is the supreme social virtue of globalized, flexible, post-modern and post-Fordist capitalism. The purpose of education in multicultural theory is to create a 'multicultural literacy' among a nation's population, meaning that people from mainstream culture are able to successfully operate in subcultures and culturally different situations. In turn, members of sub-cultures would learn to operate in mainstream culture and gain essential abilities through equal economic and educational opportunities, while simultaneously building a pride in their heritage and cultural difference.
The roots of the doctrine of multiculturalism as an official government policy are found in the Canadian government's declaration of 1971, that 'all citizens (of Canada) are equal….can keep their identities, can take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging'. Simultaneously such citizens must 'respect the political and legal process….address issues by legal and constitutional means….integrate into their society and take an active part in its social, cultural, economic and political affairs' (, 10/04/2006).

This policy was adopted as a reaction to the Canadian Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963, who had advocated that the government recognizes that the Canadian peoples, with their British and French ancestry are a bilingual and bicultural society, and must adopt policies to preserve this character. The opposition to the 'biculturalist' policy came mainly from Canadians who were neither of French or British ancestry, but diverse groups, such as descendents of migrants from the Ukraine, the Caribbean, or Canadians of Aboriginal origin. To accommodate these groups, "biculturalism" was adapted to "multiculturalism".

Examples of multicultural ideas that influence government policies include the allowing of dual citizenship, accommodation of traditional and religious dress in schools or the workplace, or the financial support for ethnic minority media, events, and community groups. This policy also encourages affirmative action programmes to encourage minority representation in politics (such as the 1980s campaign within the British Labour party for Black sections), education, and the work force. It must be noted however, that despite the emphasis on cultural differences, as Nira Yuval-Davis points out, it would be incorrect 'to suppose that those who advocate multiculturalism assume a civil and political society in which all cultural identities would have the same legitimacy….in all states in which multiculturalism is an official policy, there are cultural customs (such as Polygamy, using drugs, etc.) which are considered illegal as well as illegitimate, giving priority to cultural traditions of the hegemonic majority' (Werbner and Modood 1997:198).

The reasons put forward for adopting of policies of multiculturalism over those of assimilation and integration are that 'minorities have a right to maintain and transmit their ways of life and denying it to them is both indefensible and likely to provoke resistance' (Parekh 2000:197). Bikhu Parekh's also claims that the whole premise of the assimilation model is 'unable to redeem its promise of unqualified acceptance….(as) the demand for total assimilation springs from intolerance of differences, and for the intolerant even the smallest differences are sources of deep unease' (Parekh 2000:198).

The link between monocultural theories of assimilation and a fundamental intolerance of difference is also made by Kincheloe and Steinburg. They claim the assimilationist model to be 'a new embrace of the colonialist tradition of white male supremacy' (Kinchloe and Steinburg 1997:3) and that melting pot assimilation model had 'never operated smoothly even for non-white people who wanted to melt - no matter how much they tried to assimilate, they were still marginalized on the basis of their colour' (Kincheloe and Steinburg 1997:4).

The monocultural model also over looks how fragmentation within receiving societies had existed throughout the era of the modern nation-state, based on differences of class, religion and regionalism, and in many cases sub-divisions such as being 'Scottish' or 'Quebecois' failed to effect one's identity as British or Canadian. Bikhu Parekh notes that the monoculturalist tendency is to assume 'that society has a coherent and unified cultural and moral structure, and that is rarely the case….the assimilationist ignores all this, and either offers a highly abridged and distorted view of national culture or equates it with that of the dominant group' (Parekh 2000:197).

Parekh asserts that although national identity and the sub-divisions within such territories need not conflict, such a situation 'can arise in practice if either of them were to be defined as to exclude or undermine the other…minorities cannot feel part of the community if its very self-definition excludes them and treats them as outsiders' (Parekh 2000:232). S. Sayyid also points out how the idea of exclusion is a built in feature with national identity, as 'the nation is at best an enterprise based on exclusionary universalism. It is a bounded entity; it is not open to everyone' (Hesse 2000:36). Therefore by its very nature, a national culture will have difficulties assimilating marginal groups into its collective identity.

Multiculturalists also argue that integrationalist policies are equally as flawed as their assimilationist counterparts. They argue that such theories are grounded in a supposed colour blindness, but the reality of their implementation makes marginal groups culturally invisible, resulting in an unconscious ethnocentrism. Kincheloe and Steinburg argue that appealing to consensus and similarity between groups falsely portrays such perspectives as 'neutral and universal process(es) of consciousness construction'. As a result their beliefs of an 'unexamined sameness….allows educators and cultural producers to speak the language of diversity but to normalize Eurocentric culture as the tacit norm everyone references….(it) still assimilates to white standards' (Kincheloe and Steinburg 1997:11).

Also part of the logic for having a perspective that is grounded in the differences between groups, rather than their commonalities, or a call for such groups to create a homogeneity between them, is that it assumes a bi-polar 'white/non-white' perspective. As Stuart Hall points out 'in the 1970s anti-racist struggles by both (Afro-Caribbean and Asian) groups tended to cluster under the affirmative identity of 'black', defined by their shared racialized difference from white society. However, one unintended effect was to privilege the Afro-Caribbean experience over that experienced by Asians' (Hesse 2000:224).

It also needs to be remembered that theories which draw upon a cultural sameness, or call upon marginal groups to assimilate to the dominant culture, are grounded in different societal conditions to the ones which prevail today. The 'melting pot' assimilation model in particular was formed in the era of late nineteenth century migration to the new world and are very much a product of modernity. Zygmunt Bauman argues that multiculturalism has an enhanced potential to reduce social exclusion, because of its closeness to post-modernist theories.

Bauman claims that the boundary-conscious certainties of modernity had in many ways inspired the social exclusion of marginal groups, meaning that they were often 'earmarked for annihilation'. By contrast, the uncertain and non fixed identities of post-modern citizens, makes the creation of internal 'others' equally uncertain, therefore such groups are to be considered 'by joyful or grudging, but common, consent - here to stay….their strangerhood is to be protected and lovingly preserved…ours is a hetrophilic age…the question is no longer how to get rid of strangers and the strange but how to live with them' (Werbner and Modood 1997:54).

The nineteenth century era, when the 'melting pot' theory was founded, was also one that lacked the communications technology of today, and consequently migrants would have had a near-absolute severance with their homeland both physically and culturally. The practicality of the assimilationist, and also to a great extent integrationalist policies are questionable in this present-day era, with the compression of space and time that has occurred through technological advancement. The development of the internet, satellite technology and digital broadcasting, has brought with it an increased capacity to transmit more diverse forms of culture within western society. This includes an increased ability for migrants and their descendants to communicate with family and peers in migrant homelands, and attain instant access to cultural information and produce from these territories within the receiving nations.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown points out that such technologies of communication have aided the creation of 'pan-national virtual communities….you can see this most clearly with the growth in pan-Islamic identity in the last decade' (Alibihai-Brown 2000:269). Technology's creation of increased space for media produce has in turn led to an increase of 'narrowcast' rather than 'broadcast' media, meaning that such produce is 'not aimed at a general national audience, but at specialised segments, whose particular patterns of consumption are targeted by advertisers' (Billig 1995:132). This development has brought an opening for ethnic minority programming by organisations such as Al Jazeera, Star TV and Bollywood TV companies. A situation that had not even existed with Britain's original wave of non-white immigration in the 1950's and 60's.

The increasing deregulation of national markets created by globalization, has also led to a situation where the national cultural identity of any given nation 'must compete with other identities on a free market of identities' (Billig 1995:133). A belief that society's marginal groups must assimilate to a singular national culture is at best an inherent contradiction to, and at worst an endorsed exclusion from the prevailing ethos of post-Fordist market liberalism. As explained by Anthony Giddens, many on the new right of the political spectrum have often assumed that 'individualism and choice are supposed to stop abruptly at the boundaries of…national identity, where tradition must stand intact. But nothing is more dissolving of tradition than the 'permanent revolution' of market forces' (Giddens 1998:15).

It could be argued therefore that the policies of multiculturalism are a mere response to societal changes resulting from such a technological and commercial paradigm shift. However the potential of market-led pluralism as a force of emancipation for the socially excluded is criticised by Kinchloe and Steinberg. They argue that the primary purpose of ethnic minority media representation and produce is 'to sell and create consumer markets for particular goods and services. Techno-power becomes a medieval alchemist that instead of turning base metals into gold transforms 'truth' into 'what sells'. Valuable information in this context becomes not that which explains or empowers but that which creates a cooperative community, a culture of consumption' (Kincheloe and Steinburg 1997:116).

Kincheloe and Steinburg support their view, by pointing to the fact that the very same ethnic groups, whose cultures have become more commodifiable, have experienced a corresponding deterioration in their share of society's overall material wealth. Commodification has reinforced their exclusion as it 'constructs non-whiteness as lesser, deviant and pathological - but concurrently more interesting, more exotic, more natural and, therefore, more commodifiable than the 'white bread' norm' (Kincheloe and Steinburg 1997:18). Therefore, as such multicultural media representations of marginal groups have been accused of failing to adequately address the social inequalities they experience, multicultural policies, many of which are the subject of their indirect or covert influence are equally susceptible to repeating such failings.

Multicultural theories and policies have often been accused of a general reluctance to address issues of power relations that result from one's socio-economic class and standing, and as a result 'honour cultural difference outside of a historical power-literate context….trivialise the lived realities of exotic others and relegate them to a nether land of political isolation' (Kincheloe and Steinburg 1997:18). This lack of challenge to socio-economic issues, has led to critics questioning the egalitarian potential of such policies.

Kenan Malik criticises multicultural policies as a new form of 'divide and rule', reminiscent of that experienced by diverse tribes under colonialism, who were culturally pigeon-holed and indirectly ruled via local chiefs. Malik's claim is that the colonial system, rather than removing the indigenous culture of the colonised, had in fact changed it from one that was a living and open culture to one that was 'mummified' in a closed static formation. This 'mummifaction' came about by a 'plural outlook (that) ignored the dynamic interplay of the various groups making up colonial society, and instead represented the products of their mutual interaction as cultural forms created by autonomous segments of society, each supposedly following its particular path in isolation' (Malik 1996:172).

Malik's claim is that multiculturalism's own pluralist vision is destined to repeat such a stagnating 'mummification' of culture. Cultural differences that result from the mainstream exclusion of minority groups and their resulting willingness to cling to 'old habits and lifestyles as a familiar anchor in a hostile world', have in turn become 'rationalised not as the negative product of racism or discrimination but as the positive result of multiculturalism' (Malik 1996:177). Malik believes that rather than refraining from disrupting the narratives of modernity, multiculturalism is an embodiment of the death of post-French Revolution enlightenment ideals of universal progress and humanity. He claims that the 'philosophy of difference is the politics of defeat, born out of defeat.….unable to pursue the goal of equality, postmodernists have simply refashioned its meaning and embraced difference. The consequence has been the celebration of marginality, of parochialism, and indeed of oppression' (Malik 1996:265).

In reference to Malik's claim of multiculturalism's neo 'divide and rule' tendencies, ethnic minority community leaders have been often been cast by many critics in the role of the indirectly-ruling local chiefs. They have been criticised in many cases for providing poor leadership, resulting from a remoteness that stems from 'accepting as representatives of minorities people, in class and power positions very different from those of the majority members of that community' (Werbner and Modood 1997:200).

A Home Office report from an independent review team compiled in the aftermath of the 2001 riots in Northern England, had noted that 'In some areas, the Asian community have drawn our attention to a situation where some local political activities, including the selection of candidates, owe more to familial and other inappropriate connections than to the legitimate and pressing concerns of the local electorate. The 'politics from back home' was often cited, not only as a distraction, but also as a factor in priorities and decision making, overriding the merits of the local circumstances' (, 15/04/2006).
Malik's claims of Multiculturalism's stagnating 'mummification' of culture, is also backed by the accusations of social commentators, that such policies give a disproportionate level of cultural influence to religious leaders. Such critics claim that this has led to the extremely narrow defining of cultures and the formation of religious and cultural essentialisms. Akhtar Saeed Bhutta, director of the Muslim Education Council of Scotland, coupled his claims for state funded Muslim schools with accusing secular state education of dislocating Muslim pupils from their cultural heritage. Bhutta claims that state schools promoted entirely materialistic principles, which resulted in their Muslim pupils being 'in a cultural limbo….they are not ours, neither are they theirs'. (, 17/04/2006).

Bhutta's comments were criticised by Glasgow University's Amanullah De Sondy, an adviser on the teaching of Islamic studies within the Scottish curriculum. De Sondy claims that Bhutta's perspective on education 'will make it difficult for (Muslim) kids to face their uniqueness….if we only want to hear things we agree with in school, then is that really education?….I think working with this (state) system will help foster a Scottish Muslim identity far quicker than this other isolationist appreciation of Islam' (, 17/04/2006). In the essay 'Ethnicity, Gender Relations and Multiculturalism', Nira Yuval-Davis also claims that such perspectives bring about 'an inherent assumption that all members of a specific cultural collectivity are equally committed to that culture…(and) tend to construct the members of minority collectives as basically homogeneous, (and) speaking with a unified cultural or racial voice' (Werbner and Modood 1997:200).

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, however disagrees that the influence of religion in multiculturalist theory, has an anti-modernity stance, or that it has failed to challenge inequalities, especially regarding questions of freedom of expression. She points to the 'Satanic Verses' controversy as one that 'more than any other, made white Britons confront the fact that multiculturalism was not merely about happy-clappy festivals and world music…fundamental values were now being contested in a public arena' (Alibhai-Brown 2000:266-7).

Alibhai-Brown points to the long established principle that even in the west 'freedom of expression could not always prevail unquestioningly' and the Rushdie affair had questioned 'lazy beliefs about freedom' (Alibhai-Brown 2000:266-7). The right to 'Freedom of Expression', encapsulated in Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, is not an absolute, but a qualified right limited by legal penalties, one such example being the strict liability offence of Blasphemy.

As shown by the 1979 case of R v Lemon, producing anything related to Christianity that is considered 'contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous' could be grounds for prosecution. Lord Scarman, one of the Law Lords who formed this decision, had advocated its extension to non-Christian religions, as 'in an increasingly plural society….it is necessary not only to respect the differing religious beliefs…but also to protect them from scurrility, vilification, ridicule and contempt' (Barnett 2004:575). This however, failed to materialise in 1991 when an attempted to prosecute Rushdie for blasphemy had failed, as it was not considered applicable to non-Christian faiths.

Alibhai-Brown points out that such protests by the Muslim community were aimed at this very power inequality, rather than attempting to stifle the right to free speech. She points out that 'censorship is something enforced by powerful people and their institutions….the book burning was the complete opposite' (Alibhai-Brown 2000:267). She claims that such protests against the Satanic Verses signified that 'Asian people of faith were no longer just clamouring for access but for influence and power in cultural life and political life' (Alibhai-Brown 2000:267).

Bhikhu Parekh had also highlighted that the Rushdie affair, rather than caused by a multiculturalist outlook, was a situation where multiculturalism had been insufficiently incorporated into British life, particularly with regards to creating a 'multicultural literacy' as 'the debate would have been properly engaged if both parties had been sufficiently bicultural or had made a genuine effort to enter into each other's way of thinking….British society as a whole lost the opportunity to develop a self-understanding adequate to its multicultural character' (Parekh 2000:305).

Parekh points out that both Conservative and Liberal commentators were 'unwilling to appreciate that their deep historical fears about the public role of religion might be unjustified' (Parekh 2000:311), due to an historical memory based on early modern religious conflict. They had assumed that Muslims were opposed to free speech, rather than advocating its exercise with proportionality to the sensitivities of religious communities. Muslims had in turn brought their memories and experiences of racism and colonialism, and saw the Satanic Verses as a form of demonising the Islamic faith, and 'for their part…were unwilling to appreciate that the European Islamaphobia might have lost some of its earlier intensity, that religion must change with the times….and that the refusal to ban a piece of writing did not imply its endorsement' (Parekh 2000:311).

In conclusion therefore, as Tariq Modood points out 'the leading political philosophers of multiculturalism….do not advocate separatism….but for renegotiating the terms of integration'. He equates such an outlook with the example of gay rights campaigners, who were not content with their mere decriminalisation, but also called for public acceptance and equality with heterosexuals. Such an outlook, according to Modood, has similarity with religious minorities who are discontented with the mere toleration and privatisation or of their religion. He further elaborates that 'when subordinate, oppressed or marginal groups claim equality, they are demanding not to be marginal, subordinate or excluded. We too, they are saying, our values, our norms, our voice, should be part of the structuring of the public space' (, 24/04/2006).

The policies of British multiculturalism, however have failed to recognise the important aspect of social integration endorsed by such multiculturalist theorists and consequently also failed in their attempts to prevent social exclusion. The Home Office report into the 2001 riots noted that in executing such multicultural policies 'the development of cross-cultural contact and the promotion of community cohesion, was not valued as an end in itself', and also that 'many communities operate on the basis of a series of parallel lives. These lives often do not touch at any point, let alone overlap and promote any meaningful interchanges' (, 15/04/2006).

In realisation of such failure the UK government has ' in recent years…undergone a quiet revolution in its citizenship policies', claiming a rejection of 'multiculturalism' by introducing such measures as an emphasis on achieving basic knowledge of English language skills, British history and civic life and public citizenship-awarding ceremonies. However, as Nick Pearce points out, these policies 'are familiar to many other Anglo-Saxon democracies (such as Canada or Australia), not least those that proudly describe themselves as multicultural' (, 24/04/2006). Therefore it can be concluded that it has been the particular application of multiculturalism by the British government through its policies that have failed, rather than multiculturalism itself, as a theory.


Kinchloe and Steinberg, Changing Multiculturalism, 1997, Open University Press, Buckingham, Philadelphia

Parekh, Bikhu, Rethinking Multiculturalism, 2000, Palgrave, London

Malik, Kenan, The Meaning of Race: History and Culture in Western Society, 1996, MacMillan, Basingstoke

Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin, Who Do We Think We Are?: Imagining The New Britain, 2000, Penguin, London

Werbner & Modood, Debating Cultural Hybridity - Multi-Cultural Identities and the Politics of Anti-Racism, 1997, Zed Books, London and New Jersey

Billig, Michael, Banal Nationalism, 1995, Sage Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi
Giddens, Anthony, 1998, The Third Way, Polity Press, Cambridge

Barnett, Hilary, 2004, Constitutional and Administrative Law: Fifth Edition, Cavendish, London
Hesse, Barnor, 2000, Un/settled Multiculturalism, Zed Books, London and New York

The Conservatives and London Governance

As the 2008 London Mayoral race begins to warm up, with Ken Livingstone facing his most media friendly and arguably his stiffest challenge yet, it is interesting to note the Conservatives' history regarding London governance. It is interesting to note how the development of the political organisation of London, and how efforts to create, expand, limit or abolish London's governing authorities were influenced by the policies and political ambitions of the incumbents of central government, coupled with parochial concerns characterised by London's 'east-west' divide in the nineteenth century, and then between inner and outer London from the mid-twentieth century onwards.

The main reason for the political manipulation of London's governing bodies by central government, often at the expense of the practical needs of London as a city, is that the British political constitution is one of a unitary state, characterized by supreme power being held by parliament as the central authority of power. The structure and functions of all local government powers are controlled by Westminster and in Britain 'local democracy only ever existed on licence' (Pimlott and Rao 2002:43). One reason why there was much political conflict regarding the administration of the capital city between 1889 and 1986 when it had a directly elected administration, is that the national government had been predominantly controlled by the Conservative party. During this time non-Conservative governments with parliamentary majorities were in power for less than 20 years. London's local government in stark contrast to this, only had Conservative party control for 36 out of the 97 years that an elected administration existed. Therefore due to the superior constitutional position which central government holds, the Conservatives, when in control of Whitehall had often sought to effect the structure of London's local government to their political advantage, especially to prevent a radical administration forming in the national, and for much of this period imperial capital, directly opposing its policies.

The parochial conflict that existed between the east and west-ends of the metropolis, had roots which pre-dated party politics in the capital. Prior to the 1851 census there was no agreed definition of "London" and where its boundaries lay, other than that of the City of London area. "London" had for many centuries consisted of two separate entities, in the City of London and Westminster, with the rest of the area that was to make up London's conurbation area for many centuries run by several separate parish vestries. This situation had often led to conflict as 'civic pride was still primarily parochial, and if anything divisive in its effects' (Pimlott and Rao 2002:23).

The City of London had enjoyed considerable independence from central government as a local authority within the square mile, however the Royal Commission on Municipal Corporations Report of 1837 had recommended that the extension of the City of London Corporation's jurisdiction was the best solution for governing a rapidly expanding London, as most of the adjacent parishes were 'carefully planned within themselves but with little reference to the adjoining villages' (Hall 1997:88). The City of London Corporation however had strongly opposed this recommendation and had preferred to preserve its considerable powers and look after its own interests, rather than subsidizing the development of its poorer neighbours, or create a possibility of the City Corporation becoming an accountable organisation. The City had remained a staunch opponent to reforming the governance of London throughout the nineteenth century and had often resorted to underhand tactics. The findings of an 1887 parliamentary inquiry included 'bribery, the founding of bogus organisations, false reports and violent behaviour' (Wheen 1985:17)

As well as the City lacking a willingness to be involved in a centralised London governing body, the wealthier vestries of the west had also lacked the same level of enthusiasm as the poorer vestries of the east for such a move, in 1837 an attempt to create a pan-London authority was defeated by the Marylebone and Westminster districts. The need for such an authority had been highlighted by a series of public health problems effecting the whole metropolis, most notably several cholera outbreaks, which occurred in the early nineteenth century and was largely the result of poor sanitation. This had led to a renewed motivation across the metropolis to deal with its overall running.

Under the 1854 Royal Commission on the City Corporation, a Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) was approved and then set up under the Metropolis Management Act 1855, which aimed to provide the infrastructure to cope with the problems associated with London's rapid growth, by dividing powers between itself and the parishes. The MBW had achieved some degree of success in its provision of London's infrastructure, but was in many ways a concessionary measure to delay metropolitan-wide democracy, and had 'limited resources and insufficient authority (which) rendered any really effective action impossible' (Hall 1997:91).
The MBW had not been accountable to the residents of London and in 1888, many Liberal reformers had thought it appropriate that the MBW be replaced by an authority that was directly elected, in the mould of numerous county councils which were set up in the UK, during the very same year. Such reformers had long opposed the MBW's existence 'as an undemocratic body in the grip of the City Corporation and the conservative vestries' (Pimlott and Rao 2002:23). The MBW had been involved a succession of scandals, of which the worst in 1888 had led to a Royal Commission investigation, that had found several officers and two members of the MBW had acted corruptly.

The MBW was replaced by the democratically elected LCC in 1889 which was created by the Local Government Act 1888. In many ways from hereafter, the parochial interests of certain areas of the metropolis had transferred itself to the domain of party politics. Many of the better off western parishes, opposed to metropolitan-wide government had sided with the Conservatives and their affiliated Moderates, with many of the poorer eastern parishes siding with the radical Liberal-affiliated Progressives and later the Labour party.

The LCC's introduction by the Conservative government of the day, was in many ways a political compromise. Their return to power in 1886 was greatly reliant upon an electoral pact with the Liberal Unionists, many of whom favoured the introduction of a County Council for London. There had also been fears of a violent uprising within the metropolis, from riots such as was seen in Pall Mall in 1886 and Trafalgar Square in 1887. The first elected LCC was controlled by the Progressives, who 'had an ambitious programme of municipalisation. They hankered for control of the police, the water supply and the gas and electricity services' (Jackson 1965:10).

The Conservative government however, was careful to limit any concessions over the creation of a pan-London authority, the LCC had roughly the same powers as the MBW previously had, with the exception of being elected by its residents. It was also an atypical example of a county in that it did not have the same powers conferred on other county councils. The LCC 'did not perform the same role as, say, the Lancashire County Council' (Rhodes and Ruck 1970:19) and was 'in its early years…but a pale and slender precursor of its later self' (Jackson 1965:8).
Within a decade the Conservative government had sought to put a brake on powers the LCC, their leader Lord Salisbury referred to the body as 'the place where collectivist and socialistic experiments are tried' (, 12/12/05).

In the creation of the London Government Act 1899, the Conservatives had 'proposed breaking up the LCC and transferring its powers and duties to the boroughs' (Wheen 1985:17). The Act created a lower tier of 28 metropolitan boroughs replacing the earlier parishes and vestries, who were to share powers with the LCC. The new metropolitan boroughs however 'were never strong enough individually or collectively, to mount a serious challenge to the LCC's authority' (Pimlott and Rao 2002:24).

This structure of pan-London democracy remained static as the Conservative-affiliated Municipal Reform Party dominated the LCC from 1907-34, but from the inter-war period onwards, when Labour's power was rising in the County of London, there had inevitably arose questions around the size and boundaries of London's governing authority. It was clear that the inter-dependence which existed within the County of London area had appeared to have extended beyond the county boundaries, and into the outer suburbs, as a continuous built up area had formed with the Green Belt as the boundary and 'transport facilities had made it possible for workers in the central areas to live outside the County' (Jackson 1965:234). As well as white-collar workers, much of London's industry had also relocated to the outer suburbs, the most famous example being that of Ford's Dagenham plant which opened in 1931. Between 1934-38 the LCC area had a net loss of 191 factories, whereas the outer London area had a net gain of 429 plants.

A Labour controlled LCC had aided the creation of this 'Greater' London area, in its building of council estates in areas outside of their County area, a power which only the LCC and the City Corporation had authority to perform, and a power which the LCC made extensive use of, due to the cheaper land and lower density living available in these areas. An example of an LCC out-county estate was the Becontree Estate in Essex, with over 26,000 new homes. Despite this, the idea of a Greater London Council and fewer amalgamated boroughs had been picked up by the Conservative administration which had dominated Westminster between 1951-64, though had failed to control the LCC from 1934 to its abolition in 1965.

The increased demands on local government had meant that London's expansion was 'suggested for many years from various non-political quarters…(and) was not exclusively a Conservative idea' (Jackson 1965:239), but the Conservatives were accused of taking their own political considerations into account, over and above the interests of the organisation of the capital. The introduction of a more 'conservative minded' outer ring of Greater London would have increased their chances of regaining control of County Hall, which had looked improbable under the existing LCC boundaries.

The practical considerations and apolitical endorsement of the creation of a Greater London Council did not prevent the considerable opposition to it. The parliamentary Labour party had by 1962 taken the stand of opposing a Greater London body, of which their leader Hugh Gaitskill vowed to fight any proposed bill 'clause by clause, and line by line' (Rhodes and Ruck 1970:43). The LCC opposed a Greater London Council, particularly moves to reduce the number of boroughs and the transference of any of its functions to the individual boroughs. Meanwhile the individual boroughs who may have favoured taking over these functions, strongly opposed amalgamation with other boroughs.

The Herbert Commission was formed by the Conservative government to look into issues of local government in Greater London in 1960 and from its proposals the GLC was formed in 1963. Despite it being a creation of a Conservative administration, it remained an unpopular institution with the predominantly Conservative outer-London boroughs, and in many ways the divide between inner and outer-London became as important as the 'east-west' divide that dominated London's politics in the preceding century. The GLC's creation was for the most part strongly opposed in the counties and county boroughs which were either to disappear altogether, such as Middlesex, or as a result, would suffer considerable reductions in territory, such as Essex, Kent, or Surrey. It is therefore clear that enthusiasm for the GLC's creation was more evident in the Conservative-controlled central government than local government circles.

The Conservatives had achieved the result of regaining County Hall in 1967, but as control of the GLC returned to Labour in 1973, the GLC Conservatives were lobbying within their party for its abolition. Such proposals were delayed by Labour's election victories of 1974, who saw the need for the GLC 'to maintain the cohesiveness of Greater London as a political and economic unit' (Pimlott and Rao 2002:32). The GLC's abolition was also delayed by the Conservative's taking power of County Hall in 1977, with Sir Horace Cutler's agenda which included the selling off of council houses and public spending cuts. The GLC had become a prototype for the Thatcher administration that was to follow the Conservative general election victory of 1979, meaning the Conservative party's leadership would have been unwilling to dissolve its own control over Greater London.

Despite this there had been pressure from the Conservative dominated outer-London boroughs to review the powers of the GLC, whose belief was that they could perform the functions of the GLC as efficiently. This led to the Marshall inquiry, led by Sir Frank Marshall, a former Conservative leader of Leeds City Council. However the Marshall inquiry had praised and affirmed the need, for the GLC's existence 'as a strategic planning, resource allocating, and redistributive body….concerned with the reconciliation of London's various needs' (Pimlott and Rao 2002:32).

The cause for GLC abolition within the Conservative party had been reasserted after Labour's return to County Hall in 1981 under Ken Livingstone. The GLC was involved in a legal dispute with, and eventually defeated by, the Conservative controlled Bromley Borough Council, regarding the GLC's 'Fares Fair' policy of a 25% reduction in London's tube and bus fares, funded by an increase in rates. Bromley Council asserted that the GLC was acting outside of the powers conferred by the Transport (London) Act 1969, and was unwilling to increase its rates as it was not part of the areas covered by the London Underground, which mainly benefited Labour-controlled inner London boroughs.

Ken Livingstone also had a deliberate campaign of antagonising the Thatcher government, which included placing an electronic scoreboard of London's rising unemployment figures on the side of County Hall, directly opposite Parliament; entering into dialogue with Sinn Fein, and endorsing a statute of Nelson Mandela, whom Thatcher regarded as a terrorist. It was partly because of this, Livingstone's administration had been accused of considering wider political issues, over those that were specifically of concern to the organisation of London, and many of its policies were 'symbolic stances aimed at a national audience….using the council machinery as part of a political campaign both against the government and in defence of socialist policies' (Pimlott and Rao 2002:36).

The GLC was also criticised for increasing funding to groups such as Women's, gay and Ethnic Minority Committees, which had combined campaigns with bestowing grants to groups and projects. Norman Tebbit, a leading member of the Thatcher administration and MP for the outer-London constituency of Chingford, had described this as an 'assault on the interests of the majority of Londoners….(the) encouragement and funding of every minority cult and creation which the mind can imagine' (Wheen 1985:9). The counter argument to the Conservatives' accusation of the GLC being 'wasteful' with its grants was that 'Ministers were also concerned that the grants the council handed out to various groups….were creating a permanent constituency for Labour voters' (, 09/12/05) and possibly fears of repeating the permanently Labour-controlled County Hall, which occurred with the LCC by the mid-twentieth century.

The influence of Livingstone's GLC was also felt on a national level, with the growth of a new 'urban left' movement in other cities around the UK during the 1980's. A notable example of this was 'Militant' in Liverpool who challenged the policies of the Thatcher government and 'saw it as their duty to try to alleviate the effects of central government policies in their areas' (Wheen 1985:23), in the face of central government's threats to 'put the squeeze' on local government spending. After the landslide election defeat of the parliamentary Labour party in 1983, Ken Livingstone's GLC had been one of the few serious opponents to Thatcher's drive to dismantle the post-war Keynesian consensus and 'the political outlook identified with Livingstone….transformed the landscape of local politics in the 1980's' (Pimlott and Rao 2002:36).

The threat of Labour dominated councils challenging the Thatcherite programme had thus lead to the GLC, as well as six other Labour controlled metropolitan counties, becoming the subject of a government White Paper entitled 'Streamlining the cities'. This had advocated abolition, for being uneconomic and wasteful with resources and in turn influenced the Local Government Act 1985, which once it passed through parliament, had set the date for abolition on 1st April 1986. There had been a strong belief, particularly within the Labour party that the GLC, as well as considerations of London's local government needs, had been sacrificed for the political aims of the central government of the day.

The GLC's abolition was carried out without any investigation, unlike its creation, which was preceded by the extensive Herbert commission. The unpopularity of this move was such that discontent was expressed outside of both the Labour party and the GLC. By September 1984, a poll conducted by London Weekend Television's 'The London Programme' found that 74% of Londoners had been against the abolition of the GLC, as well as the Conservative leader at County Hall, Alan Greengross endorsing the retention of a pan-London authority for 'direction for the specific tasks that must be done for London as a whole' (Pimlott and Rao 2002:42).

Following abolition in 1986, the 32 individual boroughs effectively became unitary authorities, ruled by a single tier of local government, and responsible for almost all local government functions within their areas, giving the Conservative boroughs autonomy from a Labour controlled GLC. Such boroughs were relieved to a considerable extent of the financially re-distributive functions of the GLC, which also benefited the wider economic aims of the Thatcher government for the national economy, that of wealth creation instead of wealth re-distribution. It was estimated that from the GLC's abolition 'the largest increase in rates would be 17.6p in (Inner London and Labour controlled) Islington….(whilst) the end of the GLC would cut Westminster's rate poundage by 5.1p and the City of London's by 7p' (Wheen 1985:119).

The Conservative dominated central government had also gained direct control over many of the former GLC's powers and services, for example the formation of London Regional Transport to take over control of London's Buses and Underground trains. Functions were also taken over indirectly through non-governmental, but government appointed and funded bodies, otherwise known as 'Quangos'. Examples of such organisations were the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC), responsible for the regeneration of former Dock areas, and the London Planning Advisory Committee (LPAC), which was formed to give strategic advice on London planning to the Department of the Environment.

Unlike the GLC, these quangos were unaccountable to Greater London residents and were given powers 'unprecedented in that they were previously only exercised by local authorities acting as elected bodies' (, 11/12/05). This new arrangement for London governance was described by John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington as 'culminating in the establishment of the government of our capital city by an appointed state: the appointment of Tories, by Tories, to line the pockets of Tories' (, 11/12/05).

In conclusion therefore, the governing of London had long been effected by the parochial concerns of various areas of the metropolis, with a general unwillingness among such areas to effectively see London, or Greater London as a whole, inter-connected unit. The Conservative party's response for most of this period, was to seek to retain 'localism' within the metropolis, in that 'it was not part of party doctrine to seek to curtail local discretion by means of detailed central intervention in local affairs' (, 13/12/05). This situation was coupled with London's political 'otherness' from the rest of the nation, which had for much of the period in question left it contradicting the political make up of the national government. Due to the high visibility of its actions, being the largest local authority in the UK, situated in the national capital and in close geographical proximity to Whitehall itself, London's local government was 'regarded as a political prize by both main national parties' (Rhodes and Ruck 1970:91).

The recognition of the importance of the local government of London's influence on national affairs had become startlingly clear by the 1980s, as 'excluded groups, represented chiefly by the Labour party, demonstrated that national party politics was becoming an inherent aspect of local political life' (, 13/12/05). Central governments throughout the 1889-1986 period would have undoubtedly viewed such an administration as a threat to the legitimacy of its national authority if this administration's policy greatly contradicted its own, and would thus seek to alter the structure of such an authority for its own benefit. The history of London's governance during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can therefore be summed up as 'one of conflict of interplay between central government, campaigners and recalcitrant local authorities' (Pimlott and Rao 2002:21).

Rhodes and Ruck, The Government of Greater London, 1970, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London
Hall, Thomas, Planning Europe's Capital Cities: Aspects of Nineteenth Century Urban Development, 1997, Chapman and Hall, London, Weinheim, New York, Tokyo, Melbourne, Madras
Jackson, W. Eric, Achievement: A Short History of the London County Council, 1965, Longmans, London
Wheen, Francis, The Battle for London, 1985, Pluto Press, London
Pimlott and Rao, Governing London, 2002, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Authoritarianism vs Liberal Democracy in the inter-war period

The growing instability of the modern industrialized world from the period of the build up to the Great war of 1914-8, through to the inter-war period had brought two conflicting theories for governance of societies - Liberal Democracy and Authoritarian Rule.

The Great War of 1914 to 1918 had brought a general lack of confidence in the existing structure of Post-industrial rule. Some had wanted stronger authority to stabilize the weaknesses of modern industrial societies, while others had called for increased democracy to give sovereignty to the wider population from the discredited Monarchical or Colonial rulers. This argument between the two ideologies also existed in anti-colonial movements, providing a sharp contrast between those who believed post-colonial Liberal democracy and those who supported the authoritarianism of Fascism or Communism to aid the rapid modernization needed after colonialism. In India such a contrast existed between the Indian National Congress and Hindu and Muslim Nationalist movements, including the Hindu RSS movement which openly admired Hitler’s anti-liberal stance. The increasing advancement of technology had left a general unease among rulers and general public, due to the adoption of modern industrial techniques to warfare that had lead to an unprecedented level of carnage and death. The war involved a larger amount of conscription than any previous conflict and involved entire societies in fighting and arms production.

Technology had also produced new mass media, such as Radio and Film aiding the creation of a ‘mass culture’. This was originally favourable to ruling elites who used it to galvanize populations for the war effort, though post-war had given an intimacy between consumer and producer capable of spreading ideas and images faster and wider than existing media or culture printing press. The reason this induced fear among ruling elites is that the Great War had shown that state power was increasingly dependent on public support. Clear examples of this are the withdrawal from the war and overthrowing of existing monarchies in Germany and Russia as a direct result of public revolt from mass hunger, general poverty and disease. Within the British empire there were signs of the status quo undergoing a challenge that was directly linked to such societal changes - the change in status of women had been a concession needed for a reserve pool of labour in retaining the war economy. Resentment in India at the massacre of civilian protesters at Punjab was also widely reported in the media, as was Gandhi’s salt march. The power of such new medium was also to be exploited by authoritarian regimes, in order to retain their power through propaganda. The clearest example of this is the introduction of the Volksempfanger by the Nazi regime in Germany, its purpose was to make radio reception technology affordable to the general public.

Two key events - the Great War and the Wall Street Crash - greatly reduced confidence in the ruling system and gave rise to anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism, anti-democracy and anti-autocracy in political views across the globe. The Great War resulted in the destruction of empires and monarchies within Europe and shifted the balance of industrial power, in 1913 the U.S.A. and Japan had been in debt to European powers by 1920 the situation reversed. The fact that the Great War started in Europe, but lead to millions conscripted in Asia, Africa, Australasia and Canada, plus fighting over colonial territories fuelled anti-colonial sentiments among subjects who were lead to question Europe’s ‘civilising’ influence. The example of liberal democratic economic success post-1918 had been the United States, considered a ‘model modern economy’, with blue collar workers aspiring to a middle-class lifestyle, democratic political system and ‘mass production-mass consumption’ ethos typified by it’s rapidly developing automobile industry and mass culture.

Due to the over-production of its industry however, the New York stock exchange collapsed and thus lead to Great Depression. This incident had further discrediting effects on liberal capitalist parliamentary democracy. It had further repercussions for Europe which had been financially dependent on the U.S. economy for post-war rebuilding and war debts, as well as Japan hit by imposed trade barriers in the U.S. and China. The mass poverty and unemployment which resulted, aided authoritarian ideology which offered more short-term security than liberal ideology in the form of social welfare programmes and full employment schemes. The authoritarian regimes continued a vow to deliver the promises of modern industrial development, which Liberal regimes after the Great War and Great Depression could not.

Examples of such assurances that the authoritarians gave included Nazi Germany’s re-introduction of militarization, which was prohibited by the Versailles treaty and public work schemes building autobahns and dams. The soviets under Stalin introduced the ‘five year plan’ to further industrialisation and eliminate unemployment. Japan under military dictatorship also created huge business conglomerates that were founded to safeguard the economy and employment by government direction, including a terror campaign against unco-operative businessmen. Latin American governments were also called on to create a more interventionist role in the economy with the backing of middle-classes, intellectuals and workers. Trade Unions, peasant associations and minority organisations all operated with state sponsorship creating a bridge between elites and the masses. Such an example of this was Brazil under the Vargas military regime which had outlawed competitive political parties for corporatist representation, in which trade unions had a platform to bring their collective demands.

Therefore it can be seen that a dangerous element within the lack of faith in the existing order came from the popular conception of liberal parliamentary democracy and free market economies being indistinguishable from each other. Therefore as liberal market capitalism descended into chaos parliamentary, democracy was also undermined. This was especially so in a post-1918 established democracy, such as the Weimar republic after 1929. The fear of liberal democratic capitalist countries was that these models would give further fuel to similar parties within their own countries to discredit the existing system in the eyes of the general public. Therefore countries dedicated to the continuation of Democracy and Capitalism had attempted to divorce the link between Liberal Market and Liberal Democracy by introducing more state interventionist policies, to save rather than destroy capitalism.

The U.S.A. during the 1920’s boom had re-elected successive Republican government who adhered to the free market ideology, this enthusiasm declined post-1929 as Democrat Franklin Roosevelt won a landslide in the 1932 election. Roosevelt implemented the ‘New Deal’ which included old age pensions, unemployment insurance and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration to assist the poor, though privately owned enterprises continued to dominate. This method became known as Keynesian economics and was based primarily upon the theories of British economist John Maynard Keynes.

In his work ‘The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money’ published in 1936, Keynes openly acknowledged the state had to stimulate the economy by increasing capital and employment in times of market failure, though his theories were not widely implemented in his homeland until the foundation of the welfare state until after the second world war. The pressure on democratic governments to bring in more state interventionist policies had came indirectly from the authoritarian regimes that started their own schemes intended to provide employment and further industrial aims.

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