How did George Galloway pull off his by-election victory this week? David Goodhart's report from Bradford reveals a town still scarred by segregation and declineby David Goodhart / June 20, 2011 / Leave a comment
H Hey & Sons woollen mill, Bradford, built circa 1894: a piece of industrial history rots away
Oldham College is a successful further education college. It is also a beacon for its racially divided town, a place where whites and Asians study in almost equal numbers. Yet as I wait in its hall on a visit in May, I notice that all the students are socialising within their own racial groups. In one corner some Asians, including two young women wearing hijabs, huddle over a laptop. Nearby three less modestly dressed white girls share a joke. They are physically close yet seem not to notice each other.
It is ten years since the riots led by Muslim Asian youths in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford. In the modern history of immigration, conflict is often regarded as necessary for progress. Life in Brixton improved after the 1981 riots. Yet these three northern towns are, if anything, even more divided by race and religion than in 2001. Maxine Moar, a community organiser in Oldham, says segregation in housing and schools has got worse, and that one visible sign of difference is now far more common: Asian men wearing traditional dress. Naweed Hussain, a 30-year-old British Pakistani training consultant, says this is also true in Bradford. “I actually don’t approve of wearing traditional dress, but it has increasingly become the norm.”
To people used to the apparently easy mixing of races in central London or Manchester, the former textile mill towns of west Yorkshire and east Lancashire are another, startlingly segregated country. Industrial decline has made their race problems worse. According to the Office for National Statistics, men born in Burnley die four years earlier than the national average and 21 per cent of adults claim a key benefit. Bradford’s infant mortality rate is nearly twice the national average while in Oldham, 26.1 per cent of the workforce is economically inactive.
Prospects are not entirely grim. The three towns have drawn some benefit from Britain’s stuttering manufacturing revival. They all have about twice the national average of employment in that sector and pockets of successful specialist manufacturing (Oldham has coin-operated technology, Bradford digital technology). And many people see hope in the young Asian women who are starting to climb the educational ladder.
Moreover, everyone agrees that since 2001 the local political classes—councillors and officials, police officers, minority leaders and businesspeople—have had a more constructive…