Amol Rajan: Sooner or later, every voice is heard and heeded

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The Independent Online

W ere it not for a chance sighting of the words "Roger Scruton" on my doormat yesterday, I would still not know that Ray Honeyford died last month. Usually the obituaries are the first thing I turn to in the papers, but I now realise I was away in the days after the former headteacher from Bradford breathed his last. I saw Scruton's name because he had written his own short, beautiful obituary of Honeyford in the latest edition of The Salisbury Review.

It was in this quarterly journal of conservative thought, to which I have been a contributor, that Honeyford published an article in 1984 on the question of multiculturalism.

He taught in a school that was 95 per cent Asian, but feared policies designed to promote race relations were in fact dividing communities. He believed the influx of immigrants from the sub-continent would overwhelm not just our school system, but our country as a whole. He warned of "Asian ghettos" and chided "an influential group of black intellectuals of aggressive disposition, who know little of the British traditions of understatement, civilised discourse and respect for reason". The article garnered little attention – until it made the national press. Then, the Mayor of Bradford called for his resignation. Honeyford got death threats and needed police protection. He was suspended, then re-instated by the High Court, but forced to retire early on health grounds. Aside from Scruton, his obituarists generally failed to make this basic observation: Honeyford's views have now become the prevailing orthodoxy in our media and government. The idea that immigration is a threat to our social fabric and that we should promote patriotism in our schools is deeply rooted in both the Coalition Agreement and modern education policy.

Honeyford therefore reminds me of Bertrand Russell's excellent advice to his students: "Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric." The Salisbury Review still publishes writing on politics, history and culture that is among the finest produced in English today. It is frequently offensive and I cannot say I often agree with its editorial position, but that is all the more reason to read it. In the latest edition Scruton lauds an "exemplary, heroic and profoundly gentle man, prepared to pay the price of truthfulness at a time of lies".

Unknown to almost every pupil and teacher across the land, Ray Honeyford was a victim of unusual prescience who had reason, as he faced death, to feel a greater sense of vindication than was predicted for him at the height of his fame.