Sophie's posts

Immigration, race and local media: Smethwick and the 1964 general election, Rachel Yemm

The article begins with an introduction to the topics at hand, stating that in 1964, a previously unknown small town on the outskirts of Birmingham became famous worldwide due to “the anti-immigrant election campaign and subsequent victory of Conservative candidate and local man, Peter Griffiths”. The drastic 7.2 % swing to Conservatives as well as Patrick Gordon Walker’s loss of the seat he had held in Smethwick since 1945 demonstrate the extent of the racial tension within this town. Yemm argues that this was as a result “of strong links between local politics and local and regional media, which, working together, could successfully exploit local concerns about the impact of immigration on neighbourhoods and streets”.

The second section of the article deals with the town of Smethwick. Yemm mentions that the town was a popular place post-war for immigrant who were in search of employment in the manufacturing industry, and by 1964, the immigrant population was approximately 4,000 out of a population of 68,000. Competition within the area was focused on housing, with 4,000 people on the waiting list for a council house in 1961. It was within this context that Griffiths stood for election in 1964, gaining 16,690 votes against Labour’s 14,916. Yemm argues that it was the local and regional press, such as The Telephone, that led to this result. The Telephone created the impression that the rise in disease within Smethwick was due to the lack of sanitation of immigrants. Although the national press was also contributing to this narrative, however they emphasised the need for medical inspection upon entry to Britain, whereas The Telephone focused on the unsanitary living conditions of the immigrants.

As stated previously, housing was a notable issue in relation to race in Smethwick, as locals were concerned that immigrants were being offered council houses before British people, and often had a sense of entitlement in terms of who deserved a house more. In 1961, a rent strike led by local council tenants occurred, following the event of a Pakistani family being awarded a council house after their house was demolished as part of the slum clearance which took place in Smethwick. While reporting, ATV opened with shots of rundown houses, which was then compared to the clean council houses. Yemm argues that there was a fear that the tidy and respectful Englishness of the area was under threat from immigrants.

Yemm then turns her attention to the 1964 election. All candidates running in the election featured in The Telephone, with Peter Griffiths continuously focusing on immigration and placing emphasis on the housing crisis. Additionally, newspapers such as the Birmingham Post showed support towards Griffiths campaign. The attitude of Smethwick also gained national attention from press outlets such as ITV. Following the election, racial hostility heightened in Smethwick, as many of the myths portrayed by the press were represented through resident’s interviews and social studies.

The article then moves on to discuss the Marshall street plan; a campaign by Griffiths for the council to purchase all available houses on Marshall Street, resulting from fears of it becoming a ‘black ghetto’. The plan received support within Smethwick, with The Telephone continuing to fuel these concerns.

The article lastly discusses the 1966 election, in which there saw a swing back to Labour, with Andrew Faulds winning with a majority of 3,490. Yemm attributes this partially due to the negative attention Smethwick received, leading to many wanting to distance themselves from the racist views. Immigration as a political campaign had also lost some novelty in Smethwick.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *