Blacks should 'go back home if they don't like Mayor'

Marc Wadsworth

James McGrath  — he pronounces the surname "McGraa"  — describes himself as an  "Aussie plant" at new Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson's City Hall. His comments about Black people are robust and as distant from being politically correct as his country.

But first transport. I complain to Australian-born McGrath that it cost me  £5 for a taxi to go just round the corner from London Bridge Station, before I was forced to abandon the ride because of traffic and travel the final 200 metres on foot for our meeting at City Hall. McGrath quips that Boris and him have been getting texts from people similarly caught in traffic jams, who know them. The friends have asked what they are going to do about the congestion.

 "It's to be expected. We are in power now," McGrath said with obvious relish.

I said that my taxi driver had good suggestions about replacing empty bendy buses and double deckers with small  'hoppers' after rush-hour, traffic lights with mini roundabouts and restricting delivery truck drops to the early hours. The Mayor should listen to people like that at the sharp end, something Ken Livingstone and his Socialist Action cronies would not do. He says:  "Yes, I agree. They were Stalinist and worked to a five year plan (a reference to Lenin's Soviet Union communists)."

McGrath was drafted in by fellow antipodean Lynton Crosby, a political hard man and spin doctor credited with masterminding Johnson's win over incumbent Ken Livingstone in May, for the 2004 Tory campaign of Steve Norris. Now McGrath is the Mayor's deputy chief of staff.

Is he a Conservative headquarters "plant" - the political minder party leader David Cameron has hired to keep the notoriously flippant and maverick Boris Johnson on the right track because, for the national party, so much hangs on Tory City Hall success? Or, is McGrath a genuine Boris man  — confidante and trusted political fixer?

Some commentators say a bit of both. They point out that Johnson became candidate in the first place because he's a mate of  "Dave", as Boris refers to his political boss. Despite us having been in touch for more than two weeks arranging the brief meeting, McGrath claimed not to have checked me out.  "I don't know anything about you," he demurred, disarmingly. I said:  "Good, so we start with a blank piece of paper. I prefer it that way." I guess there were trepidations on both sides.

Him, a guy from a country where Black people are the  "Aboriginal" indigenous nation who are stereotyped by the white colonisers as social security scrounging drunks, and me a confident, British-born Black activist and news media operator with a reasonable track record. I told him a little bit about my news media and campaigning background, including as a reporter/presenter at Thames Television and as the sort of  'spin doctor' and political facilitator for the Stephen Lawrence cause célèbre.

I founded the all-party Anti-Racist Alliance which, among other things, with the support of high Tory Sir Ivan Lawrence MP, helped change the law on racially-motivated crimes, and established the ARAfest top music events in London parks which Ken Livingstone turned into the annual Rise festival. It has been said that this year's event, on July 13, will controversially no longer carry an anti-racist message. A spokeswoman for the Mayor said: "Boris has made a commitment to go ahead with the Rise festival this year but wants to emphasise its cultural and community dimensions."

I explained to McGrath, at his invitation, the breadth of my community links, both national and local, which were demonstrated on a micro level when the Liberal Democrat-Conservative leadership of Southwark borough in south east London, where I live, invited me to chair their anti-gun crime public meeting at the Damilola Taylor Centre in Peckham.

Not least as the father of two teenaged boys who have grown up in the inner city - one of whom was stabbed and put in hospital - I have a knowledge and keen interest in combating this sort of youth crime which blights London. But, as a motivational lecturer at university and other levels, I said that I am passionate about using education as means of tackling the issue as I have suggested with the Young Roots Creative Writing Project proposed by a teacher colleague and me to the Guinness Trust for an estate of theirs in Brixton, south London.

I had run similar schemes for residents on the tough Stonebridge estate at Harlesden, north west London, and the unemployed in the south west of the capital.

I brought along to the meeting copies of the Black community Voice and New Nation weekly newspapers covering the fortnight since Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London, and pointed out that Johnson was getting a bad press in these publications. I put this down to a  "problem of perception".

McGrath was far from politically correct, David-Cameron-new-cuddly-Conservative Party, when I pointed out to him a critical comment of Voice columnist Darcus Howe that the election of  "Boris Johnson, a right-wing Conservative, might just trigger off a mass exodus of older Caribbean migrants back to our homelands".

He retorted:  "Well, let them go if they don't like it here." McGrath dismissed influential race commentator Howe as  "shrill".

He scoffed at the New Nation front page "Stabbings or stop and search? The choice is yours. Will new tough policing really stop the tragic murders or simply take community-police relations back 30 years?"

McGrath might well have said that City Hall's new administration is not into this politically correct race relations stuff. He stated firmly: "Boris's main priority is fighting crime."

But was not one of the greatest tragedies in the capital at the moment the killing by Black youth of other Black youth and one could not be colour blind about that? Yes, said McGrath, but we are not like Ken Livingstone who made play of this to win votes during the election campaign. He revealed that  "we met with the family of a murder youth at that time and did so privately and did not tell the media about it".

What of the sacking of Livingstone's most senior Black appointee, Manny Lewis, the head of the London Development Agency, within days of Mayor Johnson taking power, and the sort of race equality message that sent out? McGrath was characteristically unrepentant. "He was incompetent," he said tersely.

During Ken Livingstone's campaign to be re-elected, he implied that Boris Johnson was "racist". To support this he dredged up references in Johnson's journalism of 2002 when he allegedly referred to Black people as  'pickaninnies' and talked about Africans and their  "water melon smiles".

I noted that Johnson had stressed his commitment to representing all of multi-cultural London, but that bridges still needed to built with minority ethnic communities who neither knew the new Mayor nor understood what his administration would mean for them. The minority ethnic news media, with which I enjoyed a longstanding good relationship at editor level and above, could play a positive role in this regard.

I said that I was not a great fan of the politically correct term  "multi-cultural"or Livingstone's patronising and tokenistic hijacking of its agenda. I prefered  'diversity', with its emphasis on individuals being fairly represented at all levels of society based on merit; that people should be given a hand up rather than a handout.

That is not to say that the redressing of the under-representation of African Caribbean, Asian and other minority ethnic people should not be specifically addressed where politicians like the Mayor and others have the power and influence to do so. It is interesting to note the cross party support for this in Britain and America. In the US, both former Republican Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani and Secretary of State Colin Powell embraced  "affirmative action". Current Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg is of the same mind.

I told McGrath his boss would need to bridge-build to win over London's minority ethnic citizens. He listened intently.  "So, what do you want from Boris?" he asked. I said, 'nothing'. I had not come with a CV for a job, like hundreds of people before me. I just wanted to continue to make a contribution to advancing the interests of Black people and others in London and elsewhere.

McGrath rephrased his question:  "So, what can Boris do for you?" I said that, as a Labour Party member for as long as I could remember, I was not about promoting a Conservative agenda. And I was heartened that Johnson had appointed the former Labour government minister Kate Hoey MP to advise him on sport and he appeared sincere in his desire to have an administration of all the talents.

McGrath confirmed that the observation was correct.  "We're not going to be party political. We'll do what's best for London," he said.

Curtly, he added:  "I get where you are on the radar, sunshine." Again, not a politically correct thing to say to a Black person. But, hey, these Tories have not yet been running the show in London for a 100 days. They will have to learn quicker than the London traffic or fall on their sword.


12 Responses to "Blacks should 'go back home if they don't like Mayor'"

chris's picture


Thu, 06/19/2008 - 13:29
<p><strong><u>Chris Gaynor</u></strong></p><p>Old Boris has got a lot of work to do to win over Londoners what ever their background - </p><p>The hard work for him, as they say, starts now!</p>


Thu, 06/19/2008 - 22:28
<p>As much as James McGrath isn&#39;t top of my Christmas card list, I can&#39;t help but pull up the difference between the title, &quot;go back home if...&quot; and the comment in the article, &nbsp;&quot;Well, let them go if they don&#39;t like it here.&quot; I think there&#39;s a big difference in the direct quote, even if the implications of what he says are neither diplomatic or developing the capital&#39;s multiculturalism.</p><p>&quot;Go back home&quot; implies, of course, that Black Britons aren&#39;t indigenous and as such will always be &#39;foreigners&#39; due to the colour of their skin, their ancestry, etc. To simply &#39;go&#39; is to leave London.</p><p>Great article nonetheless and it&#39;s certainly lowered my view of goings on in London (if that could happen), but even if it&#39;s implied, it&#39;s not what he said... right? <br /></p>
contribs editor's picture

contribs editor

Fri, 06/20/2008 - 14:47
<p>McGrath&#39;s comment was made in response to <em>Voice </em>newspaper columnist Darcus Howe and his reaction to the election of Boris Johnson as Mayor. Howe states that &quot;Boris Johnson, a right-wing Conservative, might just trigger off a mass exodus of older Caribbean migrants back to our homelands&quot;. To that&nbsp;  McGrath then says &nbsp;&quot;Well, let them go if they don&#39;t like it here.&quot; McGrath understood Howe&#39;s statement and responded instinctively. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p>


Fri, 06/20/2008 - 20:31
<p>You&#39;re right; after reading through and going back to write the comment, it was only the response that stuck in my head. Still, I don&#39;t see it as wholly shocking as Danielle Lloyd&#39;s comment on &quot;Celebrity&quot; Big Brother with her comment &quot;I think she should f--- off home&quot; - the title portrayed McGrath&#39;s views in a very similar light.<br /></p><p>Taking McGrath&#39;s apology into account, I don&#39;t think it was as racist as it could seem, although the timing, particularly in regards to the great work of the likes of the Anti-Racist Alliance, was pretty awful. I think that it&#39;s McGrath&#39;s way of dealing with pressure - faced with a shocking (if somewhat hard to believe) fact in people returning to their homelands due to the current Mayor and his office, McGrath himself answered in kind with a shocking counter.</p><p>As much as I myself dislike the powers that now govern London, very little will change on the grand scale and I doubt that race relations will take a downturn, even if McGrath can&#39;t be more diplomatic in the heat of the moment. London is and continues to be a beautiful and diverse part of the country. <br /></p>


Sun, 06/22/2008 - 22:56
<p>Quite unfortunate. I&#39;m not a McGrath fan, but I can&#39;t help feeling what you&#39;ve done is anti-diversity rather than pro-diversity. If our politicians are afraid to answer questions on race, how can we move on?</p><p>Here&#39;s my 3-line reading of what&#39;s happened here: </p><p><strong>You</strong>: &quot;A group of black people say they are going to leave because they don&#39;t like your guy&quot;</p><p><strong>Him</strong>: &quot;Let them leave if they don&#39;t like my guy&quot;</p><p><strong>You</strong>: &quot;LOOK EVERYONE! HE SAID <strong>ALL</strong> BLACK PEOPLE SHOULD LEAVE!!!&quot; </p><p>A severely unfortunate exaggeration, especially as McGrath had been graceful enough to see you <em>and</em> to offer a branch: &quot;What can Boris do for you?&quot;. I wonder if his successor will be so open. </p>


Mon, 06/23/2008 - 01:03
Is this supposed to be journalism ? The first thing wrong with Wadsworth&#39;s piece is that he depises generalisations about black people but is completely blind to the same racial generalisations and stereotypes when he talks about white Australian people. They aren&#39;t all racists because they come from Australia! Secondly, he uses the quote from the <em>Voice</em> about older Caribbean migrants going back to their homelands and then seems shocked when the answer is let them if they wish to if they don&#39;t like Boris. Well, am I missing something here? The Voice has just referred to older Carribeans as not indigenous Britains because this remark infers that a black persons sense of homeland would be in the Caribbean and not in Britain! That is where the story lies. The rest of this piece seems to sometimes see racism where no racism may exist, for example in replacing Manny Lewis, just for the sake of a story and without knowing the full facts or exploring them in depth from different sides. It also generalises about ethnic minorities and their needs as if they all want the same thing - is that not racist or is that a generalised politically correct thing to say? Clearly this piece was not about listening to the person being interviewed in any depth or understanding - more about the journalist. One can tell by the way it is written that it was fishing for this kind of story. Sadly, the more serious side of this type journalism is that people will see racism where it may not exist and not reflect on their own tendencies to perpetuate racism through the generalisation and steretyping of people wherever they are from.


Mon, 06/23/2008 - 01:17
<p>This sort of journalism would be more at home with Bob in Zimbabwe. The implied racialism was created totally by Marc Wadsworth and it should never have been published.</p><p>Marc ... if you are going to do an article on someone at least have the decency to quote them correctly and not twist the words into an attention seeking, self-indulgent, self-gratifying headline.</p><p>There are real issues to concentrate on without manufacuring those of your own that seemingly suit your own ideology. </p>


Mon, 06/23/2008 - 01:45
<p>You quote Darcus Howe as saying &quot;Boris Johnson, a right-wing Conservative, might just trigger off a mass exodus of older Caribbean migrants back to our homelands&quot;. It could be very easy to interpret Howe&#39;s statement as him the United Kingdom isn&#39;t considered &#39;home&#39; by many older Caribbean migrants. McGrath replies in a fairly direct manner and says &nbsp;&quot;Well, let them go if they don&#39;t like it here.&quot;</p><p>Going by what you write here, McGrath doesn&#39;t tell them to &#39;go home&#39;. He says &#39;Let them go&#39; in response to Howe&#39;s quote. The only mention of anyone returning to a homeland comes from the Howe quote you supply yourself. </p><p>The current headline &quot;Blacks should &#39;go back home if they don&#39;t like Mayor&quot; is absolutely absurd. It&#39;s a headline that is suggested to have come directly from the mouth of McGrath which it quite clearly has not. Fighting against racism and stupidity shouldn&#39;t involve reducing oneself to headlines that rival tabloid newspapers in terms of inaccuracy. </p><p>The racism associated with &#39;sunshine&#39; is a very difficult one. I don&#39;t consider myself sheltered, despite being a white boy who grew up in the countryside. You don&#39;t spend three years living in a diverse city such as Toronto as I did, working on the &#39;no income tax, no benefits&#39; black market employment ticket with so many other immigrants, without realising that racism is pervasive, even in a decidedly left of centre country as Canada. being married to a Latin Jewish lady also led me to see other types of discrimination, not least the day we spent visiting London in this country and someone racially abused my wife in public. However, reading your article did surprise me because I can remember growing up and playing cricket and teammates and opposition calling me &#39;sunshine&#39;. &#39;Hello sunshine&#39; is more than a racist slur. </p><p>I had to look online for some history over the use of the word as a racist slur and, ironically enough, came up with Darcus Howe writing in the New Statesman:</p><p> <a href=""></a> </p><p>I&#39;d suggest that there are many out there who have no idea that &#39;sunshine&#39; has a racial connotation and that the word may well have lost a lot of its derogatory associations to the actual speaker but people like Howe and your good self still remember the hate that came with it. As words may gain a derogatory meaning, so they may lose it as well. </p><p>Because it&#39;s gone 1am and I&#39;m in a decidedly strange mood, I would love you to go and check out this link. It&#39;s a link to the script for Episode 3127 of the popular Australian soap drama &#39;Home and Away. I refer you to the scene in which Irene first greets will, some 13 lines of dialogue down. </p><p> Racist slur or cheerful greeting? </p><p>I shall leave that for you to judge :) </p><p> Now, this piece written by you: &quot;Him, a guy from a country where Black people are the &nbsp;&#39;Aboriginal&#39; indigenous nation who are stereotyped by the white colonisers as social security scrounging drunks.&quot; </p><p>I love the smell of glorious generalization in the morning... for future Australian articles, maybe some reference to cork-equipped hats, crocodile wrestlings and a few other stereotypes might be in order. You do of course know that &#39;James McGrath&#39; is a pseudonym and that his real name is &#39;Bruce Dundee&#39;. </p><p>It&#39;s rather sad that a man loses his job today for alleged racism on the basis of one suspect article whereas a different man in another country retains his job, despite commanding others to carry out numerous acts of hate, violence and murder over the last few years/months/weeks/hours, some of which have been racially fuelled. </p>


Mon, 06/23/2008 - 02:22
<p>Just a small point on this rather trivial story.</p><p>You explain that Mr McGrath pronounces his name &quot;McGraa&quot;. That is of course how most people with this surname pronounce it. I am not clear about the point you are trying to make by emphasising this pronunciation.</p><p>Surely not making fun of people because of their accent or ethnic origin? </p>


Mon, 06/23/2008 - 17:02
<span style="font-size: 10pt; font-family: Arial">How does &nbsp;&quot;Well, let them go if they don&#39;t like it here&quot; become &nbsp;&quot;Blacks should &#39;go back home if they don&#39;t like Mayor&quot; without jounalistic hyperbole? How does this sort of sensational headlining make community relations better? </span>


Sun, 08/15/2010 - 19:39
<p>I do not understand this at all. Why would they say something like this. This is totally unheard of.</p><p><a href=""></a></p>