By Paul Goodman
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The murders of Jamie Bulger and Stephen Lawrence happened within a few weeks of each other. The first took place in February 1993, and loosed a wave of national revulsion which swept Tony Blair, then Shadow Home Secretary, to a prominence which left him well placed for Labour's leadership. The killing of Stephen Lawrence two months later didn't stir a similar movement – the Daily Mail's famous front page came four years on – but its consequences reached further: in effect, the resources of the state were hurled at the five men originally held on suspicion of the murder. A judge-led inquiry into the case was conducted. The law was changed to abrogate double jeopardy. The Mail this morning reports that police surveillance of the suspects has cost some £50 million.
Unlike Blair, David Cameron doesn't make a habit of commenting on every case of public interest. But he did yesterday, saying: "In the 19 years since his murder, Stephen Lawrence’s family has fought tirelessly for justice. The verdict cannot ease the pain of losing a son. But, for Doreen and Neville Lawrence, I hope that it brings at least some comfort after their years of struggle." Amen to that – and that the Prime Minister did speak is a reminder that, like the Jamie Bulger killing, that of Stephen Lawrence became a symbol, more slowly but also, perhaps, more lastingly: one of racist violence and police incompetence (not to mention highly questionable investigating) of gangland swagger and justice denied.
As telling as what has been written in the aftermath of yesterday's convictions is what has not been written – at least by some of those who have followed the public consequences of the Lawrence tragedy most closely. Trevor Phillips has a record of good sense on the bundle of issues of which ethnicity is sometimes part – for example, over the outdatedness of the multiculturalism doctrine and the need to "assert a core of Britishness" – and it is notable that his Daily Telegraph article this morning commenting on yesterday's verdict does not praise the insertion of the concept of institutional racism into public life. He merely describes the debate over the idea as "fruitless", and moves swiftly on to praise the way in Britain has changed.
Phillips is right to point out that the horrible miasma which enveloped the murder has dispersed since, and to suggest that policing, the media and politics are very different today. As he says, there are 28 non-white MPs compared to 4 at the time of the Lawrence murder: "one in three" – he writes – "is a Conservative, and for the first time in history a Conservative Prime Minister calls a Cabinet to order with a Muslim, Baroness Warsi, at the table. This should thus be a good time to look again at the whole legacy of the institutional racism doctrine as enshrined by the Macpherson report – which holds that “A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”.
Some of its effects have been balkanising and, therefore, damaging – a consequence that Phillips's brief treatment of the matter seems to acknowledge. He also notes that there are people who participated in this murder who remain free and unpunished. Let's hope that they are found, charged and convicted.