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The chicken shop knife-crime campaign would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic | Coco Khan

After their 2013 “Go Home” vans, a campaign so ill-conceived and prejudicial it had to be withdrawn after public outcry, you’d think the Home Office would have learned its lesson. But alas! This is a “stand back, chaps, and hold my drink” kind of government; its spirit animal is a bull in a china shop, and, like a demented Tinkerbell, it truly believes that anything is possible with a little faith, trust, and pixie dust (sorry, I mean racism).

The latest debacle unfurled on Wednesday when the Home Office proudly tweeted about the launch of its chicken shop-focused anti-knife initiative, in which thousands of takeaway boxes will be repackaged with the stories of young people who successfully went #knifefree.

The outcry was swift and abundant. Critics pointed to the campaign’s underlying racist assumptions, and the implication that knife crime is solely an issue for brown people rather than the product of growing nationwide poverty impacting all communities. Many politicians expressed their dismay, including David Lammy who called the initiative “either explicitly racist or … unfathomably stupid”. Why the “or”? I’d say we’ve got ourselves a government more than capable of both.

Conversation has swiftly turned to the creative team behind the campaign, an advertising agency called All City Media Solutions. The now viral screengrabs from its website have described the agency’s rationale: “Never has there been an opportunity to target the … ethnics” it boasts, with seemingly zero awareness that “ethnics” is pejorative and hasn’t been said by any young person since 1987. Written in nonsensical and cringe faux-slang (“the vibe is famished”), it goes on to present a stock-image graffiti styled moodboard. It’s unclear to me what it’s supposed to be conveying – I imagine All City Media Solutions might say it’s a visual representation of the modern urban young person, although it conveniently also reads as a collage of rightwing paranoias: “Muslim”, “ethnic”, “violence”, alongside “fashion”, “mobile” and “emotion”.

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Sajid Javid and Priti Patel

Sajid Javid and Priti Patel: ‘If these wealthy Asians have been in a chicken shop in their adult life, it was surely as a dare.’ Photograph: Alex Lentati/POOL/EPA

But their statistics are the pièce de résistance. It claims – with no reference to its source – that 70% of chicken shop customers are “BAME”, which breaks down as “45% Black, 45% Asian, 45% Middle Eastern” … which is 135%. Clearly maths is not a strong point for All City Media Solutions. Perhaps they are adherents to the school of Tory maths, you know, where somehow none of the sums properly add up, but it’s okay because pixie dust (sorry, racism).

So far, so tragic. It is unclear to me if this campaign is a Sajid Javid number, or a Priti Patel stroke of insanity, though if we needed any further evidence that brown skin does not equate to anti-racism, surely this is it. Indeed, if these wealthy Asians have been into a chicken shop in their adult life it was surely as a dare and they probably asked for cutlery.

That the government is so out of touch with young people that All City’s turn as Toby Young dressed as Ali G was received as credible, is truly depressing. Because the conditions for young people grow bleaker each year and despite the government’s desire to push all the blame on to young people themselves, state intervention is urgently needed. The future that faces young Brits is likely to be one of debt, housing insecurity, a growing mental health crisis, as well as pension and income instability – if they’re even being paid the minimum wage at all (recent legislation means workers under 24 can be paid less than everyone else).

I’d have thought that, by now, the Conservatives’ interest in clinging to power might have kicked in, and in a bid to reverse the loss of young Tory support we might see some policy changes. But perhaps they’re still banking on faith, trust and pixie dust.

Coco Khan is commissioning editor for Guardian B2B, and a columnist and feature writer


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