Cameron policy chief apologises for 'racist' 1980s memo

30th December 2015, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron's chief policy adviser apologised on Wednesday for remarks made after riots in 1985 when he said funding for black businesspeople would end up in "disco and drug trade".

Oliver Letwin, a member of Cameron's cabinet with ministerial status, was an adviser to Margaret Thatcher when riots involving black youth in north London broke out due to alleged police brutality.

A police officer was killed in the ensuing violence.

In a memo to Thatcher released by the National Archives on Wednesday, Letwin said that the social context was irrelevant as a reason for the riots.

"The root of social malaise is not poor housing, or youth 'alienation', or the lack of a middle class," he said in a statement co-written with fellow future Conservative MP Hartley Booth, who has now retired.

"Lower-class, unemployed white people lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order on anything like the present scale," they wrote.

"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."

The two dismissed government plans to refurbish crumbling tower blocks and encourage a black middle-class through funding for small businesses.

"New entrepreneurs will set up in the disco and drug trade," they said, adding that renovated housing "will decay through vandalism combined with neglect".

"People will graduate from temporary training or employment programmes into unemployment or crime."

Instead the two Conservatives proposed placing "young delinquents" in foster homes and creating a "youth corps" to promote "moral values".

Letwin said in a statement on Wednesday: "I apologise unreservedly for any offence these comments have caused and wish to make clear that none was intended."

"Some parts of a private memo I wrote nearly 30 years ago were both badly worded and wrong," he said.

But Tom Watson, deputy leader of the main opposition Labour party said Letwin's comments revealed "an ignorant and deeply racist view of the world".

"A great many people will be asking whether, as a government minister, he still holds such offensive and divisive views," he said.

Trevor Phillips, former head of Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission, told BBC Radio Letwin's apology was "not quite" enough.

He said Letwin should now outline how Cameron's promise to attack race inequality would be enacted.

© 2015 AFP

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