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Friday, August 27, 2004

Back to Bradford

Half a lifetime ago, between the publication of my 16+ and 'A' level results, I was hovering about whether to go into social work. In those days the procedure was a three-year sociology degree followed by a year's training for a certificate (the CQSW). My reserve choice of university was Bradford. Wisely I declined and chose a different career (although whether my subsequent career choice was wise is open to debate).

All this came back to me when I watched Edge of the City last night. Not the excellent social noir by Martin Ritt with John Cassavetes, but a documentary about a year in the life of Bradford social services. Originally scheduled for broadcast in May, the show was pulled when it became apparent that the British National Party intended to use it as a party political broadcast. The issue, taking up about 1/4 of the actual documentary, was the portrayal of Asian men 'grooming' white teenagers for sex. Strikingly when there was a conviction at the end of the film, it was of an individual not on a mother's hit list of suspects and not affiliated to either of the gangs cited.

The rest of the piece, apart from a dignified old man trying to maintain his independence at the age of 82, was typical 'spot the chav' pornography, a chance to see how the other half lives. Omar the social worker in training seemed at the end of his tether; no wonder when the camera crew hadn't got the gumption to remind young offender Matthew when he was out late being filmed in breach of his curfew time.

It's a different Bradford to the one I was investigating in the mid-1990s, both with my colleague Sally Millard and with the broadcaster Kenan Malik. At the time we found that Asian youth were organising patrols to run curb crawlers out of town. This led to conflict with the West Yorkshire constabulary, but it was reported as a generation gap where the elders were failing to control the youth. Have the uptight moralists I rowed with a decade ago turned into 21st century pimps? Or did Edge of the City find an angle for publicizing its lurid exposé that money couldn't buy?



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