Oliver Letwin blocked help for black youth after 1985 riots

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Re: Oliver Letwin blocked help for black youth after 1985 ri

Postby admin » Thu Dec 31, 2015 1:43 am

Oliver Letwin memo borders on criminality, says Darcus Howe
Civil liberties campaigner condemns comments about black communities made in 1985 as David Cameron’s policy chief issues an apology
by Frances Perraudin

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Oliver Letwin said in a statement that parts of the memo were ‘badly worded and wrong’. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Civil liberties campaigner Darcus Howe has condemned remarks about black communities made in the 1980s by the prime minister’s policy chief after the Tottenham and Handsworth riots, describing the comments as “bordering on criminality”.

Oliver Letwin was forced to issue a statement apologising for any offence caused when a confidential memo from 1985 was released by the National Archives in which he blamed unrest on “bad moral attitudes”.

In a confidential joint paper, Letwin, who is now MP for West Dorset, and inner cities adviser (and later a Conservative MP) Hartley Booth, tell the then-prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, that “lower-class unemployed white people had lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order on anything like the present scale”.

The men warn Thatcher that setting up a £10m communities programme to tackle inner-city problems would do little more than “subsidise Rastafarian arts and crafts workshops” and that any help would only end up in the “disco and drug trade”.

“If a black man had said something quite like that he’d have been called into Scotland Yard and and he might be charged with incitement to riot. It is bordering on criminality,” said Howe, who was a prominent figure in black rights campaigns in the period the document was written.

In a statement, Letwin said: “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.”

Howe, who went on to become a writer and broadcaster, said he didn’t think David Cameron would remove Letwin from his post, saying he had “no trust in Mr Cameron on the issue of race at all”.

The former editor of the political magazine Race Today said the incident would provide an opportunity for the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to stand up alongside the black community. “There are people in the Labour party who don’t want to be seen backing black people because they may lose white votes. Not Corbyn,” said Howe.

“I was saying about two days ago to a friend that Corbyn is going to get a chance to stand up with blacks and he will. And this is his opportunity. So that the black community knows that this is not the Labour party of Blair and the two Miliband boys.”

Letwin’s comments were condemned by prominent Labour figures, with the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, saying they were evidence of “an ignorant and deeply racist view of the world”.

“He obviously cannot justify his opinions, but he must explain himself and apologise without delay. A great many people will be asking whether, as a government minister, he still holds such offensive and divisive views,” said Watson.

The shadow international development secretary, Diane Abbott, who in 1987 became the UK’s first black female MP, tweeted asking whether Letwin was “proud to have blocked action against bad housing and to encourage entrepreneurship after 1980’s riots.”

The Labour MP Chuka Umunna said: “The authors of this paper illustrate a complete ignorance of what was going on in our community at that time, as evidenced by their total and utter disregard of the rampant racism in the Met police which caused the community to boil over – there is no mention of that racism in their paper.

“The attitudes towards the black community exhibited in the paper are disgusting and appalling. The tone of it in places is positively Victorian.”

David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, who grew up alongside the Broadwater Farm estate, said the memo showed just how “out of touch those in power can be with the reality of what is happening”.

Trevor Phillips, former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, described Letwin’s comments as “pretty outrageous” and said his apology was “not quite” enough.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think these remarks would have raised a single eyebrow at the time.”

[Diane Abbot, Labour MP] Even 30 years ago had he said those views publicly, people would have been shocked, and they were clean contrary to the Scarman Report which looked into urban disturbances in 1981.


Phillips added: “Now actually if Oliver really wants to be contrite then I think what we have to hear pretty quickly is something about today, how they are going to make good on the prime minister’s conference pledge to attack race inequality in Britain.”

Phillips said he did not believe Letwin’s comments reflected his true views.

“I don’t think that this reflects his attitude,” he said.
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Re: Oliver Letwin blocked help for black youth after 1985 ri

Postby admin » Thu Dec 31, 2015 1:55 am

Oliver Letwin’s memo on race is not ancient history. It’s current Tory policy
by Joseph Harker
December 30, 2015

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‘The beliefs held by Oliver Letwin in 1985 are still being enforced in government.’ Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

In October, prime minister David Cameron gave this endorsement to the Black British Business awards: “I am very pleased to reaffirm my support for the [awards] as they once again seek to identify and celebrate outstanding business men and women from the African-Caribbean community. As we seek to build a One Nation government it is vital that Britons in every community know that they can succeed regardless of background and where the only determinant for your success is your ability and desire to succeed.”

Who could disagree? Well, it turns out, his own chief policy adviser. For we now know that, after the widespread unrest in 1985 across Britain’s inner cities – from Tottenham to Handsworth to Brixton to Toxteth – the Tory cabinet minister Oliver Letwin, then a member of Margaret Thatcher’s Downing Street policy unit, believed that any cash support for black businesses would merely end up funding drugs and dodgy sound systems.

Letwin, along with Thatcher’s inner cities adviser, Hartley Booth, co-wrote a confidential paper which successfully argued against cabinet members who believed black communities should have help to redress the poverty and lack of opportunities they faced. The riot-torn areas were, at the time, among the poorest parts of Britain.

Home secretary Douglas Hurd had warned of a “thoroughly dangerous situation” in the inner cities. Environment secretary Kenneth Baker wanted to refurbish rundown council estates; and Lord Young, employment secretary, wanted positive action programmes to overcome the barriers to jobs and business startups for young black people.

They weren’t the only ones calling for action, of course: the Greater London Council, then led by Ken Livingstone, funded ethnic minority and equal rights groups, as did several Labour-run local councils. In those days there were no black MPs, but several Labour MPs and civil rights campaigners also said the underlying problem was inequality and that resources were needed to tackle race discrimination and its fallout.

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Police officers in riot gear on the Broadwater Farm housing estate, Tottenham, in 1985. Photograph: Julian Herbert/Getty Images

Despite these efforts to put the rioting and unrest in a wider context, Letwin and Booth argued that “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. David Young’s new entrepreneurs will set up in the disco and drug trade.”

Of course, this was all 30 years ago. Letwin last night said his memo was “both badly worded and wrong”, and has apologised “for any offence these comments have caused”. So does it really matter any more?

Yes, absolutely it does. Because not only is Letwin employed as Cameron’s policy adviser, but there’s clear evidence that the beliefs he held in 1985 are still being enforced in government. In 2011, as riots again tore through the country, and as campaigners said this was a clear sign that poverty and inequality ran deep, the government responded as it did in Thatcher’s day, by claiming it was all the work of individual criminals – “those thugs”, as Cameron called them at the time.


Before any investigation into the causes had even begun, Cameron declared: “In large parts of the country this was just pure criminality.” And he continued: “Let’s be clear. These riots were not about race … These riots were not about government cuts … And these riots were not about poverty … No, this was about behaviour. People showing indifference to right and wrong. People with a twisted moral code. People with a complete absence of self-restraint.” His words could virtually have been cut and pasted from Letwin’s 1985 paper.

So in 2011, rather than looking at embedded structural issues, including the way black communities are policed – especially in the light of the police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham – the response was to hand out massive penalties to those convicted, in order to dissuade anyone else from taking to the streets in future protests.

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David Cameron in 2011. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

And instead of supporting organisations that work towards equality – such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Runnymede Trust, Operation Black Vote and the Stephen Lawrence Trust – these organisations have seen their budgets slashed, and for some their very survival is under threat.

The main difference between Cameron and Thatcher is that the current prime minister likes us to think that he cares. In the same month as his warm words about the Black Business awards, he addressed his annual party conference: “Do you know,” he asked his party delegates, “that in our country today, even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get callbacks for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful.”

He promised no action to address this, though, and didn’t mention that he’d pulled the rug from those organisations actually trying to tackle discrimination. With Thatcher, of course, from her response to the 1980s riots, to her stance on immigration, to her support for the apartheid regime in South Africa, she made no attempt to hide her views on race.

Cameron now has a choice. He can either keep Letwin in his cabinet, and make clear to all that he’s happy to have someone who so misunderstands black Britain among his closest advisers. Or he can make a symbolic break with the past and drive out Letwin and his thinking, while at the same time promising to give proper support to those trying to counter discrimination and racial inequality. I hope he chooses the latter. If not, it will be a moment where his mask has slipped and we get a clear view of what he really feels about Britain’s minorities.
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