We need to guard against childish gloating when we read about the arrest of Patricia Hewitt’s son for possessing cocaine, says Rod Liddle. But first, a quick recap of her record
There is something rotten with this country when people can take such base, spiteful pleasure from the arrest of a young lad simply because his mum was a former government minister and architect of New Labour. The sins of the father should not be visited upon the child; the sins of the child should not be used as a whip with which to beat the parents simply because, unaccountably, some people don’t like them. I find it terribly saddening that the case has even been reported: our press needs to learn a little restraint and a little morality. This revelling in human misery has become an all-too-ugly character trait of the British newspaper business. So let us leave the unhappy parents alone in the hope that, free from the demented basilisk glare of media coverage, they might repair the wounds occasioned by this young man’s arrest and cleave together as a family. They need time, they need peace, they need solitude.
But first, though, let’s recap. Nicholas Hewitt Birtles, aged 21, was arrested for being in possession of a Class A drug, cocaine, in Camden Square, north London, very close to his parents’ home. He was charged, bailed and is due back in court on 30 September. He was arrested along with another chap of similar age because the two men were seen to be acting suspiciously by the police, who, upon apprehending them, discovered a quantity of white powder which transpired to be cocaine. The maximum tariff for possession of cocaine is seven years; for dealing, it’s life. But that’s the maximum tariff. A recent study showed that almost no coke dealers receive the maximum sentence and users often get off with just a warning and maybe a fine: this is a consequence of the government’s ‘get tough’ policy with the drugs trade (working a treat, I’d say) and a certain in-built leniency within the judiciary, the lenient judges.
There’s an awful lot of drugs kicking around Camden Town. One senior judge who lived near Camden Square recently spoke out about the problem, while opposing plans for a needle exchange centre to be set up near his home (undoubtedly for profound, considered and broad-based social concerns rather than out of any crass nimbyism). Judge William Birtles said that he felt that such a scheme was not appropriate because it might draw more drug users into the area — a valid point, you might agree. ‘We have drug dealing at the end of my road!’ he announced, appalled. Well indeed, judge — and that’s probably your son Nick, buying from them. But we don’t know. Best wait for the court case to come up and in the meantime allow the judge a degree of privacy and solitude and peace in order to heal the wounds, etc. With Nick’s mum, too, because she’s probably not best pleased, all things considered.
Ah yes, mum. Mum would be Patricia Hewitt, the Labour MP for Leicester East, and formerly a disastrous health secretary, even by the standards of recent health secretaries. In the past, Ms Hewitt has led Labour’s crusade to ban smoking and was also prominent in calling for the government to increase tax duties on alcopops, which are so popular with our deeply misguided young people today. One assumes, given her ascetic approach to all forms of pleasure and total and utter disregard for personal liberty, she would be particularly averse to the most socially damaging, least environmentally friendly and exploitative of drugs, cocaine. And of course, unlike smoking cigarettes and drinking alcopops, cocaine is actually illegal! But this is a conversation Patricia will need to have with Nick and it is not right or proper of us to pry or speculate. However, that being said, she may be more indulgent with him than you might at first expect, because Pat was one of the first Labour ministers to come forward and announce that while at university she had smoked cannabis. But she only smoked it once and confessed that she didn’t really like it. Still, at least she had a go.
I have to say, when I was at university, the Labour left tended to smoke dope, the SWP and whacko commies took speed and the Tories (a really horrible bunch, believe me) indulged themselves in cocaine — so perhaps Pat might upbraid her son on party political grounds. But as I say, that’s a matter for mother and son and it would be tasteless to speculate. Certainly, though, cocaine has usually been seen as a drug of aspirational affluence, the preserve of toffs and celebrities, despite its vastly reduced street price these days. So maybe she’ll be pleased with Nick, who knows? She should have a bit of information for him to hand, though, because upon resigning as Secretary of State for Health she took up an extremely lucrative sinecure with the world’s biggest pharmaceutical concern, Boots, for whom she works — in her spare time, of course, in those rare moments when the problems of her Leicester constituents have briefly abated — as a ‘special consultant’.
I suppose Patricia Hewitt may retreat into damaging and despondent introspection as a consequence of this trauma. One can merely hope that this isn’t the case and urge her to put it behind her, no use crying over spilt milk, she’s a fighter not a quitter (actually she has been a quitter, technically, but never mind). However, if she were to relapse into introspection she might worry that Nick has been forced, throughout his life, to mix with too many men. By which I mean any men at all. It is perhaps Patricia’s most notable achievement over the course of her public life to have inculcated in all of us a righteous disgust for and loathing of men. In one of the countless reports she has authored or co-authored, she suggested that children brought up without men around tended to turn out better and that there was no great need for a father-figure in the family. And in another report she stated that there was a clear problem with men looking after children, and that men should not be allowed to look after groups of children. Perhaps this has been the problem, then — Nick always had Judge Birtles around, worrying about the ghastly drug dealers at the bottom of the garden and being disgustingly male in the presence of the poor child. And of course Nick has become a man himself fairly recently — and you know what they’re like. Only to be expected, etc.
Do you recall the former chief of police of Manchester, James Anderton? A very right-wing chap, he was; particularly had it in for sexual deviants, as he would have put it. Homosexuals, etc. Born-again Christian. I can remember dancing for joy when it was revealed that his daughter was a lesbian. It’s that sort of spitefulness and childishness we need to guard against when we read about the Hewitts. Or the Hewitt-Birtles. Whatever.
Rod Liddle blogs daily on new.spectator.co.uk.