Oliver Letwin apologised on Wednesday after he was accused of making “racist” remarks following the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots in north London. The Tory chief's screed was revealed in files published by the National Archives, which detailed the workings of Tory government during the 1980s.
The documentation revealed that Letwin, then an advisor in Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit, ascribed “bad moral attitudes” for the rioting that broke out in across several predominantly black inner cities.
He also rubbished claims the disturbances were the result of deprivation, while dismissing cabinet pleas to help black youth, scoffing they would simply "set up in the disco and drug trade.”
Three cabinet colleagues, including Douglas Hurd, had demanded assistance be given to impoverished communities in the wake of the riots, however Letwin rejected these proposals, dismissing a tabled £10million communities programme as nothing more than a subsidy for "Rastafarian arts and crafts workshops.”
Hurd had warned that alienated black represented “a grave threat to the social fabric” of Britain.
In a statement on Wednesday, 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 apologise unreservedly for any offence these comments have caused and wish to make clear that none was intended."
Labour MPs had earlier lined up to condemn the remarks, with Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson calling Letwin’s comments “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,” Watson added. “A great many people will be asking whether, as a government minister, he still holds such offensive and divisive views.”
Shadow minister John Ashworth joined the chorus of disapproval, stating: “These offensive remarks are very concerning, particularly given his very senior position in the current Government as David Cameron’s policy supremo."
“I’m sure Mr Letwin will want to clarify these remarks and apologise as soon as possible,” he added.
Alongside the Broadwater Farm estate, riots also broke out in Handsworth, Birmingham and Brixton, south London. However, the worst disturbances were witnessed in north London, the riots claiming the life of PC Keith Blakelock, who was stabbed to death.
Despite the troubles being widely attributed to various social factors, including high unemployment, poor housing, a lack of education and antagonism between black Britons and the police at the time, a document written by Letwin and the future Tory MP Hartley Booth, blamed the unrest on “individual characters and attitudes.”
“The root of social malaise is not poor housing, youth ‘alienation’ or the lack of a middle class,” they wrote. “Lower-class unemployed white people lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order on anything like the present scale.”
“Riots, criminality and social disintegration are caused solely by individual characters and attitudes. So long as bad moral attitudes remain, all efforts to improve inner cities will founder,” the pair concluded.
Labour MP David Lammy, who grew up near the Broadwater Farm estate, decried the comments as “breathtaking”.
“It had nothing to do with moral bankruptcy and everything to do with social decay and the appalling relations between black youths and the police,” he said.