Andy Mac

Dear Bradford,

As one should never start a professional letter with the term ‘I am writing’ I’ll just say that, unlike Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, I wasn’t at all surprised you didn’t get the golden ticket to the government’s proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail project. You may be the sixth-biggest city in the country, but you are a city which has been in cultural, economic, architectural and civic decline for at least the past thirty years. Unlike other cities of a similar (or larger) size, you have no worthwhile central business and shopping district to speak of. You are a city increasingly divided along religious and ethnic lines, with one of the most backward-looking Muslim communities in the country. You are a city where the council chomps at the bit to hide the appalling grooming and female genital mutilation epidemics amongst significant sections of its Pakistani population, and then goes on to enunciate opprobrium towards those who wish to expose it. You are a city where previous administrations embarked upon a programme of architectural blitzkrieg – replacing Victorian gems with 1960s and 1970s carbuncles, despite the fact you were scarcely bombed during World War Two. In short, you’re a dead city. A city where far too many in public life prefer to take umbrage at any criticism, instead of taking a good and solid introspective look at why you continue to languish behind cities of comparable size across the United Kingdom.

Your failure to confront your own shortcomings isn’t a recent phenomenon. It started way back in 1984 when the late Bradford headmaster, Ray Honeyford, wrote a critical account on the deleterious effects of multiculturalism on educational attainment. Far from taking on board the legitimate points he was making, you decided to suspend him from his job. Even when he won an appeal to be reinstated to his position as headmaster at the, now redundant, Drummond Middle School, your perpetually-aggrieved cohorts of Islamic radicals and bleeding-heart liberals hounded him from his job. In fact Mr Honeyford felt so threatened by the actions of those who sought to demonise him, he lived out the rest of his days 38 miles away in Bury.

Since the Honeyford controversy, radical Islam has made its presence felt in Bradford in other ways. In the summer of 1989, that community protested violently against Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ in various parts of the city. The situation became so intense, bookshops throughout the district withdrew the publication from their shelves after being warned they would be the target of arson attacks if they continued to stock it. Unfortunately, our political classes didn’t appreciate the magnitude of this strike on a fundamental British principle of freedom of speech/expression. They refused to see the underlying intolerance of a religion that would only go on to cause more societal upset as it grew larger in numbers. To add insult to injury, the bigger the Muslim community has become in Bradford, the more insular it has become in tandem. Sights unseen three or four decades ago – women with face-coverings; wives walking feet behind their husbands like subordinate, obedient canines; whole areas economically colonised by down-at-heel businesses and eateries catering specifically to one section of the community; ‘Asian’ youths treating your roads as a rule-free race track – are now commonplace. Has it ever occurred to you that prominent investors may have visited, subsequently seen a city resembling a colder version of Kabul, and then hightailed it away to somewhere more conducive to the prospects of economic success?

Moreover, you don’t just have a problem with an increasing section of people largely disconnected from our country’s cultural and value systems. Your problem is compounded by the desire of your suburban middle classes to choose Leeds or Manchester as their go-to destinations for shopping or entertainment. As your city centre has divested itself of any enticements for people who are cash-comfortable and discerning, it is now a magnet for those who desire cheap or tasteless goods at rock-bottom prices. In short, if an outsider wants to experience a Harvey Nichols, a John Lewis or a Selfridges, he or she will pick the aforementioned neighbouring cities. If, by contrast, they solely seek outlets like Poundland, Poundworld, Pound Empire, Everything for a Pound, Cheap Cutz, Bargain Basement Bonanza and much more, you are the Mecca (excuse the pun).

I’m sorry if my appraisal of you is heavy on negativity. It’s just that I’ve spent nearly 50 years of my life watching your decline from near and far. It’s not Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak holding you back, I’m afraid. The blame for that lies in your own population. You’ve set your stall on being cheap, scruffy and heavily Islamised in parts. That’s fine if you’re content with these limited ambitions, but don’t ever expect massive investment or ingenuity from outwith….such as a gleaming new railway station with improved connectivity. Your tagline was once: ‘Bradford – one landscape, many views’. Well I have to say the vast majority of those views are crap!! I know it. Investors know it. It seems most who count for anything know it. And all the tree-planting in the world doesn’t change these fundamentals.

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