Oliver Letwin: Tories must focus on the inner cities, not the leafy suburbs

From a speech by the shadow Home Secretary at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, south London
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The Independent Online

As Iain Duncan Smith has made abundantly plain, the Conservative Party cannot be seen merely as the party of the leafy suburbs and of the rural shires. The Conservative Party is committed and has to be committed to a fair deal for everyone. No one held back and no one left behind. To fulfil that commitment, the Conservative Party has to be the party of the inner cities.

In another context, I recently described myself as a naïve optimist who believed in miracles. I am, and I do. I believe in the miracle of the establishment of a neighbourly society - the bringing about of sustainable social programmes in our inner cities. Yes. This is a dream. But only in the sense in which Martin Luther King used that term in his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was the greatest speech of the 20th century, and the dream he dreamed that day has surely been coming true ever since.

We have to believe in our dream of sustainable social progress in the inner cities. We have to believe in our dream of establishing a neighbourly society in the inner cities. We have to believe that we can lift young people off the conveyer belt to crime. Of course, we have to recognise that there are grounds for - at least reasons for - the pessimism and cynicism that is so prevalent. One estimate from Dick Atkinson, an expert in urban renewal, suggests that 20 per cent of the population live in 3,000 troubled inner and outer-city neighbourhoods. A further 10 per cent teeter on the brink.

I have been taken to the Pulross playground by Rachel Heywood, chair of the Brixton Area Forum crime group, and Inspector Sean Wilson, head of the Brixton Town Centre Team. Rachel tells me that her activities began in 1996 with a campaign to save their dangerous playground from property developers. Not only did Rachel and other local residents ward off the developers, but they warded off the drug dealers as well.

How was this done? Through sheer determination, courage and community action. The mess was cleared, gardens were planted and events organised. They have transformed a dangerous playground full of drug needles and other detritus into an oasis of tranquillity for the children who live near by.

I know that the pessimism and the cynicism are unjustified. I know that they are unjustified because in some places the dream is becoming true. I know that miracles can occur, because in some places they are occurring. These miracles have not been brought about by politicians or by bureaucrats.

They have been brought about by faith and hope. They have been brought about by communal effort, by people determined to make, for themselves and their neighbours, sustainable social progress in the inner cities - the very commodity that the cynics and the pessimists believe cannot be manufactured.