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David Cameron adviser apologises over 'offensive' 1985 memo about black rioters

The memo was sent to the then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher back in 1985.

Oliver Letwin
Oliver Letwin
Image: Dominic Lipinski

DAVID CAMERON’S POLICY chief Oliver Letwin has apologised over a memo he sent in 1985 where “bad moral attitudes” were blamed for a series of riots in mainly black areas.

The memo, written with a fellow adviser Hartley Booth, has come to light after the release of documents from the British National Archives in Kew:

National Archives papers released Source: Yui Mok

At the time, Letwin was an adviser in Margaret Thatcher’s No 10 policy unit. His memo, written with Booth, concerned the Broadwater Farm riots, which erupted in predominantly black inner-city areas.

The Guardian reports that the memo argued that any assistance for black unemployed youths following these riots would only end up in the “disco and drug trade”.

Letwin apologised “unreservedly” last night for any offence caused by his comments in the memo, saying that parts of it were “badly worded and wrong”.

In a statement provided to TheJournal.ie, he 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.

National Archives papers released Source: Yui Mok

The memo said that the root of social malaise “is not poor housing, or youth ‘alienation’, or the lack of a middle class”.

It also said that riots “are caused solely by individual characters and attitudes. So long as bad moral attitudes remain, all efforts to improve the inner cities will founder”.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna was among those who commented on the issue. He spoke of his personal experiences of the riots in a statement:

I grew up in Lambeth during the time of both Brixton riots. My mother was out shopping with me and my sister – we were both very young – in the middle of Brixton when the first bout of riots kicked off on 10 April 1981 and we quickly fled the area. 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. People will draw their own conclusions but I hope the authors will feel thoroughly embarrassed and ashamed at what they wrote back then. At the very least they should apologise.

Read: Cameron says Britain’s Christianity is key to its success>

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