Cameron adviser sorry for saying riots caused by ‘bad moral attitudes’ of black youth

Margaret Thatcher © Jonathan Evans
One-time aide to Margaret Thatcher Oliver Letwin has been forced to apologize after newly released papers show he tried to block help for poor black communities in the wake of London’s 1985 riots.

Now a senior adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron, Letwin told Thatcher in the aftermath of inner city riots in the mid-1980s that financial aid to relieve poverty would simply be spent on the “disco and drug trade.

Along with Thatcher’s inner cities adviser, Hartley Booth, Letwin was instrumental in seeing off demands by cabinet ministers that assistance be provided to impoverished citizens after the riots in Tottenham, north London, and Handsworth, in Birmingham.

The memos, which were released by the National Archives on Wednesday, showed that Booth and Letwin lamented the rebelliousness of black youths compared with the passivity of poor white people.

In a confidential paper they told 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.

Following a warning by Cabinet minister Douglas Hurd that the social fabric of Britain was under threat, the two opposed a £10 million assistance fund on the grounds it would end up being used for drugs, discos and to “subsidize Rastafarian arts and crafts workshops.

Letwin, who is now chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and a minister for government policy, helped to convince Thatcher that the real issue was absent fathers, moral breakdown and state funding of leftist activism.

He and Booth argued: “The root of social malaise is not poor housing, or youth ‘alienation’ or the lack of a middle class.

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 a statement released Tuesday, Letwin said: “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 apologize unreservedly for any [offense] these comments have caused and wish to make clear that none was intended.

Other files from the era hint at government fears of an escalation. Police told Thatcher during the Broadwater Farm riots in Tottenham that those battling police had acquired napalm. She was also told rioters had gotten hold of a milk float and planned to make petrol bombs from the bottles.

Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson criticized Letwin’s comment in the most withering tones, telling The Guardian they were “evidence of an ignorant and deeply racist view of the world.

He obviously cannot justify his opinions but he must explain himself. A great many people will be asking whether, as a government minister, he still holds such offensive and divisive views,” Watson said.