Thursday, 31 December 2015
We used to have class. As the old sketch had it, the upper class looked down on the middle class and the lower class knew their place. Yes, yes, yes, the opportunities were fewer and people were obsessed with migrating from lower-middle to upper-middle class and so on, but there was a certain very British comfort in having a place on the class ladder and struggling to lift your next generation to a higher rung. This is the background to Oliver Letwin’s comments about the events at the Broadwater Farm estate in 1985 and the horrific fate of PC KeithBlakelock.
In a time of daily beheadings broadcast world-wide, or of the routine crucifixions and live burnings and hurling from tall buildings that litter the internet, the death of a copper by multiple stabbings by a mob of dark-skinned people may seem routine, but back then it was unprecedented. All police forces, being hugely outnumbered, operate by the consent of the policed and one of the features of the class system was how the police dealt with you. For the lower orders, knowing your place worked pretty well and the residents of Broadwater Farm were very much in that category. So Bernie Grant’s comment at the time: "What the police got was a bloody good hiding" ran violently counter to the accepted order.
Most young people won’t know this, but until the social upheavals that typified the last quarter of the twentieth century, the police were generally respected and relied on by society in general; they were not the unaccountable, politically correct thought police they have become today. This is the background to and context within which Letwin’s memo to Mrs Thatcher was written. It is of its time and to people of my generation he has absolutely nothing to apologise for. He wrote “Lower-class, unemployed white people lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order on anything like the present scale.” He was right, identifying that this time it was different.
Today, the Guardianistas would be more directly racist, assuming that expecting poor black people to behave as orderly as poor white people would be beyond their sensitive cultural traditions, which must be appeased by throwing money at them. Letwin’s real sin was expecting everybody living in Britain to abide by the same standards – if anything his was a more level-headed and pragmatic appraisal that throwing money at the problem would do little to improve the lot of a people bound to their behaviours by their background. He was doing his job. But no, he must be pilloried for not anticipating how times would change.
It has now become the norm to cry foul should anybody ‘offend’ you based on your colour, your religion, your ridiculous mode of dress, your personal view of what gender you are today, your sexuality, your political predilections, your perversions, age, height, hair colour, mental fragility and on and on and on... and much of such ‘abuse’ can result in criminal proceedings, sometimes many years after the fact. What next? Will we soon be criminalised now for transgressing as yet unwritten statutes; punished for 'future thought crime'? How soon will it become illegal to serve ethnically inappropriate biscuits?
Are we really ready for more diversity?
I’m not against the odd sincere public apology. Indeed, if you have genuinely done wrong it is the accepted behaviour of the honourable man. But Letwin’s apology is as pointless as it is insincere. Pointless because he was quite right to offer his opinion, with which most would have agreed at the time. Insincere as he is only making it to appease the ludicrous sensitivities of today towards the normality of yesterday. Many believe it was better before. We used to have class. Not any more.