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Cameron ally Oliver Letwin blamed 'bad morals' for race riots that rocked England in '80s

State papers

By Gavin Cordon

Published 30/12/2015

Controversial: Oliver Letwin MP
Controversial: Oliver Letwin MP

Oliver Letwin, the policy chief of Prime Minister David Cameron, blamed "bad moral attitudes" for riots that erupted in black inner city areas in the mid-1980s, according to newly released papers.

Mr Letwin, then an adviser in Margaret Thatcher's No 10 policy unit, rejected claims the violence was down to deprivation and said white communities had endured the same conditions for decades without similar rioting.

He also dismissed proposals to foster a new class of black entrepreneurs, saying they would set up in the "disco and drug trade".

The riots were among the worst disturbances to hit mainland Britain. They included the Broadwater Farm riot, in which PC Keith Blakelock was stabbed to death.

In one document among the papers released by the National Archives in London, then-Home Secretary Douglas Hurd pointed to the underlying social problems.

But in a memorandum written with future Tory MP Hartley Booth, Mr Letwin - now the Cabinet Office Minister - insisted the troubles came down to "individual characters and attitudes".

"The root of malaise is not poor housing, or youth alienation, or the lack of a middle class," they wrote. "White people lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order. Riots, criminality and social disintegration are caused by individual characters and attitudes. So long as bad moral attitudes remain, all efforts to improve the inner cities will founder."

Plans by then-Environment Secretary Kenneth Baker to refurbish tower blocks or by then-Employment Secretary Lord Young to encourage new black entrepreneurs were not the answer, the pair argued.

"Entrepreneurs will set up in the disco and drug trade; Kenneth Baker's refurbished council blocks will decay through vandalism combined with neglect; and people will graduate from training programmes into unemployment or crime," they wrote.

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