Local Newspaper Material
Borough of Ealing’s Immigration, Race
Relations, and Ethnic Minority Issues, London
Researched and Compiled
from issues of the:
Middlesex County Times (Ealing edition)/Ealing Gazette,
Middlesex County Times (Southall edition)/Southall Gazette,
Midweek County Times/Midweek Gazette
DR. PIOTR STOLARSKI
How did Ealing’s multicultural society come into being? What circumstances, interests, tensions, and policies shaped its birth? And which past events and issues remain seminal in the consciousness of today’s ethnic groups, having helped influence the outlooks of Ealing people more generally?
There can be little doubt that the 1970s were especially crucial to the development of multicultural Ealing. Indeed, immigration and race-relations were the most prominent issues appearing in 1970s local newspapers in the London Borough of Ealing: the Middlesex County Times (Ealing and Southall editions), the Acton Gazette, and the Midweek County Times/Midweek Gazette.
The reason for this prominence is straightforward: the composition of the borough (Southall in particular) had – by the later 1970s – changed considerably since the late 1950s, with the settlement of large numbers of people born outside the British Isles. These had travelled from the Commonwealth countries of the Asian sub-continent (chiefly
India and Pakistan),
Africa, but also from Europe ( Ireland
to find work. Their arrival, however, especially in Southall, occasioned
considerable local tensions,
of a gravity unheard of before or since.
Southall first came to national prominence as an area of rising immigrant population in the early 1960s, with the opposition of the Southall Residents’ Association (SRA) to mass immigration. The SRA cited problems such as overcrowding, the perceived impact of immigration on education, and alleged immigrant misconduct. It seemed to some pre-existing residents that Southall was being taken over by immigrants at an alarming rate.
1968 saw the anti-immigration ‘rivers of blood’ speech by Conservative MP Enoch Powell, which resonated with many white British people, including in Ealing and its environs. Later, the bussing issue took centre stage. Ealing Council deemed it necessary to transport Asian children aged 5-11 and considered to have poor English skills from Southall to schools throughout the borough. A fixed quota of ‘immigrant children’ (40 per cent in any given Southall school) was established to ease the perceived burden on teachers and non-immigrant pupils. This practice of ‘bussing’ however (initially accepted by many Asian parents, and in force between 1963 and 1981) met with rising opposition by the early 1970s, with many Asians considering it to be racially discriminatory. By then more Indian children had been born locally, and thus fewer had ‘poor’ language skills to justify the policy.
The Sikh custom of wearing turbans had already become a contentious issue in the work place in the 1960s (and remained so in the 1970s), and more so in the context of attempts by some Sikhs to wear turbans in place of helmets when riding motorcycles. The law was duly changed after Southall MP Sydney Bidwell’s private member’s Bill passed in 1976.
Racial tensions rose further during the 1970s, with Skinheads and Asian gangs facing off, and prominent local immigrants (and their supporters) becoming increasingly vocal and strident about perceived racism, and the inflammatory rhetoric of the National Front. Racist attacks and graffiti against ethnic minorities escalated. A rising radical Marxist agenda and the emergence of the Black Power movement were contributory factors to a more confrontational attitude among some immigrants at this time. Yet the untimely death of school boy Gurdip Singh Chaggar (1976), and that of the New Zealander Blair Peach at the Southall riots (1979), indicated the extent of broader social unrest bubbling beneath the surface.
Nevertheless, the ‘Asian community’ of Southall (itself internally diverse) was not simply beleaguered and victimised: immigrants could be politically savvy, articulate, hard-working, and proud of their culture and identity. Some of the positive interaction between people of different backgrounds, often at cultural events and in schools, was recorded in the local press.
More negatively, some immigrants also caused crime and wreaked violence or intimidation against the pre-existing population. Offences against the immigration laws and threats of deportation were also commonly reported in the local press. Moreover, rapid cultural change was difficult to come to terms with for older (white, English) residents, whose views cannot always be boiled down to prejudice and discrimination.
Yet at the same time, through all this, the beginnings of progress were being made with airing and tackling issues of race-relations, particularly by the Ealing Community Relations’ Council (ECRC) and its affiliated organisations – including local churches and political parties. (Yet the ECRC remained a controversial body which was seen as politicized and pro-immigrant by some Ealing residents.) Increased participation of Asians in the running of ECRC and progress in local government representation by the later 1970s were also significant developments.
In an era before the Internet, 24-hour televised news, and mobile telephones, the local newspapers were the key opinion-forming fora – devoting considerable space to the views of the pre-existing English population and those of the recently settled. These views concerned everything from politics, customs, religion, housing, integration, arranged marriage, to gang violence and racial discrimination. The letters pages were thus replete with opinions and debates linked to the issues of immigration and race-relations, their local significance, and their wider ramifications.
Newspapers also reported on a wide range of related community events, as well as on issues such as Police-immigrant relations; the activities of the prominent Ealing Community Relations Council (ECRC); those of the Indian Workers’ Association (IWA); and Ealing Council policies pertaining to immigration. At times many of these bodies or others, such as the National Front, were embroiled in ongoing discussions and exchanges. The opinions of local councillors and MPs were also frequently shared.
Many of the newspaper features covered contentious issues such as bussing, the Muslim burials controversy, attitudes towards local Gipsies and Gipsy camps, and the Sikh motorcycle helmet issue, in considerable detail (far more meticulously than current newspapers) and reveal ways of thinking at odds with today’s accepted norms. Unlike in the present day, when a widespread consensus exists about the inherent positive value of ethnic and cultural diversity, in the 1960s and 1970s views were far more polarized and confrontational. Contemporaries were only learning to deal with ‘diversity’, much of which they did not see as positive. Parties such as the National Front or Union Movement existed and tapped into such sentiments. Language, assumptions, preconceptions, stereotypes, and a shifting sense of fairness, were all involved in this process of accommodation. Yet, luckily for the historian, local politicians, community leaders, and residents of the day seem to have been far more engaged in the issues concerned and more open about their views than today’s people might be. The papers therefore reflected these concerns with a similar level of intensity. As such, they constitute an invaluable local source of information about these issues, and are indispensable to any researcher of related subject matter.
This book is the result of two years’ of painstaking microfilm research into some 1,900 issues of four local newspapers, spanning the years 1970-1979. It provides a year-by-year, month-by-month, listing of the newspaper material touching on all aspects of the aforementioned issues and many more besides. The subject index at the back highlights particular individuals, themes, and subjects, for ease of navigation and study.
My aim in producing this book has been to enable researchers to locate relevant stories and get a sense of the chronological context to the developing race-relations, immigration, and ethnic minority situation within the London Borough of Ealing in this tumultuous decade. It is hoped that Ethnic Ealing will serve as a comprehensive research tool and facilitate a fuller understanding of the upheavals of the period, thereby shedding light on how Ealing’s multicultural and multiracial society came into being.
Dr. Piotr Stolarski
Local History Assistant
Ealing Local History Centre
 See: Piotr Stolarski, Ealing in the 1960s: Cultural ferment in local context (2013), chapter ‘Immigration and Race’.