Report: Bradford Politics in the Pub huddle reveals multiple concerns

By Hugo Dixon

This week CommonGround held a lively public event in Bradford with Politics in the Pub and the Bradford University Peace Society as part of our Ten Towns project. Around 50 people attended. There was a broad cross-section of the local community – young and old, with different political beliefs and from different social backgrounds – with one exception: there was hardly anybody from Bradford’s large Pakistani community, in part because many Muslims do not go to bars.

The evening began with a panel discussion between Simon Cooke, head of the Tory group in Bradford City Council, Ralph Berry, a Labour councillor, and me. Dermot Bolton, from Politics in the Pub, moderated brilliantly and with wit. But the main action took place afterwards, when we split into about half a dozen smaller groups to debate Brexit and the issues Bradford faced as a city.

The room could agree on one thing: we had sympathy for the views of those who voted differently to us in the referendum. But that didn’t stop the discussions getting heated.

Although the audience was split roughly equally between Remain and Leave voters, the group I moderated consisted entirely of people who were passionate about Brexit. Half were UKIP supporters, half Tories. Here are the questions we discussed and some of the answers in my group.

  1.  What are the most divisive issues in the local community and how do you think they can be addressed to bring people together?

The answers focussed almost entirely on relations between Bradford’s white and non-white populations.

“They want us to change to adapt to their way of life – Sharia law and Halal. Quite frankly, it should be the other way round.”

“We live our lives happily – separate but together. Nobody dislikes anybody, but we have nothing in common with one another.”

“We will never integrate. There are so many differences in the way we pray and shop.”

“Can you put a bird in a cage with a cat?”

“One year I fasted to learn about other cultures. I have friends from other backgrounds but, apart from one, just in the workplace.”

“I’m annoyed when Subway doesn’t want to serve pork.”

  1. Are you optimistic about the future of the local economy? What would help most improve its prospects?

Many of the answers focussed on Bradford’s relationship with its booming neighbour Leeds and unhappiness with the local council.

“Bradford will struggle until we have elected leaders who know what they are doing. Elected members should take an IQ test.”

“I’d love to be optimistic, but there’s Leeds. If [a project is] big, expensive and powerful, it’ll be built in Leeds.”

Bradford is a “poor cousin” vis-a-vis Leeds. “I’m very optimistic about Leeds and West Yorkshire but not Bradford”.

“Not optimistic. I can remember when Bradford was heaving at night. Now it’s dead.”

“Not optimistic…. Don’t think the council is using money well. Want the council to invest in business and youth clubs.”

One practical suggestion was the the government should declare Bradford a tax haven/enterprise zone to boost its economy.

3/4. How will Brexit affect Bradford and what are people’s hopes and fears for Brexit?

Despite my group’s passion for Brexit, they didn’t seem to think it had much to do with Bradford.

“Not sure the issues are Brexit related. We voted to get out. Finished.”

“Does the EU really affect Bradford? Will it have an effect?”

One fear was that Brexit could have a “short-term financial impact” but the price was worth paying for future generations.

One hope was that “Brexit could be a kick in the pants” and help Bradford get better at “selling stuff”, perhaps building on its Asian connections to develop new export markets.

Another was that we could “get some money back from the EU.”

  1. What have politicians done for you lately and what would you change if you were in their shoes?

The general view in the group was hostile to politicians, with most of the criticism focussed on local councillors. That said, there were kind words for Philip Davies, the Tory MP for Shipley, and the group was thankful to national politicians for one thing: giving us the Brexit vote.

My group provided just one snapshot of the evening’s event. Other groups were pro-Remain or mixed.

This was CommonGround’s second trip to Bradford. Read a write-up of an earlier visit here. I intend to return to Bradford next year. One of Dermot’s ideas is to bring the white and Asian communities together via a Politics and Poppadoms event in one of the city’s amazing curry houses. That sounds like a great idea.