A cautionary tale of how a conservative politician can forget his belief in individual responsibility and accept the notion of collective institutional guilt as the cause of all wrongdoing . . . even the murder of a police officer.
Until a couple of days ago, Oliver Letwin, a member of the British Parliament and chief policy advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron was not on my short list of well-known British politicians. He started his young political career advising Margaret Thatcher, steadily climbed the leadership ladder and had built a solid conservative reputation . . . until now.
At this moment, his political career has stopped. He has ceased advising and has become chief court jester for the Conservative Party. His mouth spews forth mea culpas like a carnivalesque fool in a world upside down. All in an attempt to save himself from his own self-identified “racist” remarks he made in response to a riot at Broadwater Farm thirty years ago.
A riot on a farm? Don’t be confused. We are not talking about Charlotte’s Web but rather Broadwater Farm, a public housing project located near Tottenham just north of London. I had never heard of Broadwater Farm and I only know of Tottenham because of their English Premier League soccer team, the Hotspurs. I am also confused why the British would use the term “farm” to describe a government housing project. Here in the South, we used to put prisoners on “farms” and we let rich transplants live in gated communities called “plantations.” Maybe it’s the same idea only different – like most things American and British.
Broadwater Farm was built in 1967 to house around 4,000 people. Like many government subsidized housing schemes of that era, the architecture was poured concrete glazed with a veneer of concrete with some concrete edging and a few windows thrown in – much like the Blatt Building which contains my Statehouse office in Columbia. Just imagine something that the Soviets might have built but with straight lines and fewer cracks. By 1985, Broadwater housing estate was considered the worst place to live in Britain, a distinction forever linking collectivist architectural design for the masses with the socialist programs that failed them.
The riot started with a traffic stop. British police arrested Floyd Jarrett, a young black man of Caribbean descent, after stopping the car he was driving for a license tag violation. Mr. Jarrett was taken to the police station and charged with theft. The police then searched the home of his mother, Cynthia Jarrett, who lived in Broadwater. During the search, Ms. Jarrett had a heart attack and died. Her death followed months of rising tensions between Broadwater residents and police.
Rioting ensued over several days. Youths from the housing estate clashed with police. Fire trucks were attacked as they attempted to extinguish the fires set by protesters. A large crowd brandishing machetes, propane torches and Molotov cocktails marched on the police station.
At the height of the riot, a mob of 30 wearing balaclavas, what Americans would describe as ski-masks, fell upon Constable Keith Blakelock and hacked him to death with machetes while screaming, “kill the pig.” He suffered 42 cuts as they attempted to decapitate him. He left behind his wife, 3 year-old daughter and newborn son. Those who murdered Mr. Blakelock were never identified.
Given the horrendous details of Constable Blakelock’s murder during this riot, we should not be surprised that an advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wrote staff memos about the causes and solutions to this event. Before we consider his comments, let us read his broadly worded apology issued immediately after the release of the Broadwater government investigation records on December 30, 2015. Mr. Letwin stated:
“Following reports tonight, I want to make clear that some parts of a private memo I wrote nearly 30 years ago were both badly worded and wrong. I apologise unreservedly for any offence these comments have caused and wish to make clear that none was intended.”
What did Mr. Letwin say thirty years ago in response to this violence and Constable Blakelock’s brutal murder that would cause him and the Conservative Party such embarrassment today? Why are leftist social activists accusing Mr. Letwin of hate speech and demanding a criminal investigation into what he said?
The following are Mr. Letwin’s five most controversial statements made about the causes of the Broadwater Farm riot and the solutions proposed to Prime Minister Thatcher to improve conditions at the housing project. These statements were originally written by Mr. Letwin in private government memos and identified as shocking in a recent article in The Independent. I have provided a short background explanation prior to each of his italicized statements:
Mr. Letwin opposed a proposal by two government ministers to fund a program encouraging black entrepreneurs in the housing project:
[Lord] Young’s new entrepreneurs will set up in the disco and drug trade; Kenneth Baker’s refurbished council blocks will decay through vandalism combined with neglect; and people will graduate from temporary training or employment programmes into unemployment or crime,”
He opposed a government proposal to vastly increase spending in public services and facilities in the housing project:
“Riots, criminality and social disintegration are caused solely by individual characters and attitudes. So long as bad moral attitudes remain, all efforts to improve the inner cities will founder.”
In his only reference to race, he contrasted black Broadwater residents to an earlier generation of white Brixton residents:
“Lower-class, unemployed white people lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order on anything like the present scale; in the midst of the depression, people in Brixton went out, leaving their grocery money in a bag at the front door, and expecting to see groceries there when they got back.”
He argued that the riots should not be blamed on institutional racism.
“The root of social malaise is not poor housing, or youth ‘alienation’, or the lack of a middle class,”
He did not support the British version of affirmative action.
“There should be no ‘positive discrimination’ in any new programmes,”
Other than contrasting Broadwater to Brixton, he made no mention of race. His remaining comments about personal responsibility, fiscal discipline, suspicion of government programs and a rejection of broad institutional or societal blame for the criminal acts of individual rioters have been core conservative positions for years.
Yet the British press, who should fear any suppression of political speech since they have no First Amendment to protect them, gives main street credence to a new generation of leftists who claim these positions are now akin to hate speech and should be investigated as crimes.
I searched through multiple news articles covering Mr. Letwin’s apology for any meaningful reporting of Constable Blakelock’s murder or of any detail of the riots. I wanted to fully understand how indifferent today’s British news media has become to the value of an individual life, especially a life of a police officer. His murder was mentioned in passing but only as background to explain why the government had released files. All of the outrage and vitriol was directed at Mr. Letwin remarks.
In our brave new world of extreme sensitivity, merely mentioning individual self-discipline, even when the words are thirty years old, is worse than murder and conservative ideas are more dangerous than machete cuts.
Conservatives in the United States should take note. We still enjoy the protection afforded free speech by our First Amendment– at least until another activist Supreme Court decides that our Constitution must be diluted to reflect the sensitivities of whatever historically oppressed group is the de rigueur cause among the elite DC liberal set that year.
Until such time that hate speech charges are filed against us for opposing abortion or calling for lower taxes, the panderers to the historically oppressed will rely upon their tried and true weapon of hollering “racism” at every perceived offense. They have developed a sound recipe over the years. A few facts are mixed in with a good amount of historical forgetfulness to score fundraising victories and maybe some hush money. They assume most people could care less what happened more than 50 years ago and just want the noise to go away. It’s bad for business.
The Broadwater Farm apology controversy stands apart from the typical historical shaming shakedown. Mr. Letwin did not just apologize for some old monuments and flags. He apologized for statements made about an event whose facts have not been lost to history. The police officers that witnessed Constable Blakelock’s death, including the officer that Blakelock shielded and whose life he saved, are still alive and are able to testify. Those who committed the murder are still alive and are able to pay for their crimes – if caught. A story that the British press should continue to pursue.
Mr. Letwin’s apology is appalling. Beyond dishonoring the sacrifice made by Constable Blakelock, he has become complicit in the grand leftist lie – a lie that Thatcher and Reagan won elections by exposing.
The grand lie is this: you are owed. For whatever reason – bad ancestry, bad work habits, bad morals, bad decisions, bad economy, bad environment, bad luck – you are owed from cradle to grave, absolved from any personal responsibility and you are to be paid by a bankrupt government no matter the cost in taxes, treasure or debt. You are not responsible because all of society is guilty. It is the same socialist lie told by demagogues for more than a century. Only now, the leftists have discovered how to get the checks delivered with an apology and extend their tyranny of misplaced guilt.
Mr. Letwin deserves the lashing he has received from the liberal press. He was known as an intellectual conservative, but his apology carries the stench of misguided defection. He has certainly followed other conservatives down the well-worn trail to political acquiescence (which is just a side trail to political obsolescence). His rise to conservative leadership with Mrs. Thatcher and fall into political cowardice with Mr. Cameron should stand as a lesson to American conservative politicians. Renounce this idea of historical and collective societal guilt as the cause of individual crimes and just stop with the apologies.