The National Archives revelations which have now come to the public’s attention about what Oliver Letwin, David Cameron's policy chief and key Cabinet minister wrote about black people 30 years ago whilst serving under Margaret Thatcher, might come as a surprise to some, but not to me.
I’m one of those black British people Letwin and the Tories were talking about in the 1980s, having been born in Toxteth, Liverpool just before the riots spread throughout Britain. I can vividly remember them and the inner-city social unrest at the time while my neighbourhood burned, as police wearing helmets and carrying truncheons and riot shields chased black people around the estate, handing down swift punishment without fear or favour.
My experiences, however, didn’t lead me to “discos and drugs”, unemployment or crime, as Letwin suggested while he dismissed proposals to invest in a scheme to encourage black entrepreneurs, but to policing were I served for over 11 years. Nor did I have one of those ‘bad moral attitudes’ Letwin wrote about people just like me, unlike his “badly worded and wrong” document.
What Letwin’s privilege didn’t allow him to understand is that Britain’s black community weren't rioting for the sake of it; they were crying out for help. Not only had they been over-policed and criminalised unlike their white neighbours - they were also forgotten by the UK government in which Oliver Letwin was a rising star.
At the time, his boss Margaret Thatcher considered abandoning the city altogether as a lost cause. So today, when I read about what Letwin thought back then, I am once again reminded of how unsympathetic the Conservative party can be - and have been - towards people of colour.
Letwin’s party is the same one who only two decades prior to his memo ran an election campaign saying ‘If you desire a coloured for a neighbour vote Labour, if you are already burdened with one vote Tory’.
The Conservatives promised that once in office, they would bring up to date the Ministry of Repatriation to speed up the return of home-going and expelled immigrants. People who had served, fought and died for this country.
In my lifetime, I have only ever known the Tories to have been the truly ‘nasty party’ towards ethnic minorities, and no amount of spin or public relations is going to get away from this truth. In the run-up to the referendum on changing the UK voting system in 2011, David Cameron said that multiculturalism had damaged the country - when actually the opposite is true. Without the contribution of people of colour, the UK would not have remained as relevant as it is in the modern world and a significant global power, currently the world’s fifth biggest economy.
Today Letwin may have apologised 'unreservedly' for the comments he wrote in the memo sent to Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, but only because he has been caught with his trousers down. At no point during the past three decades as a public servant has he thought it proper to apologise for the language he used towards Britain's black community.
One of my first thoughts when I heard about Letwin’s views was: if only black Britain would have known about this prior to the UK General Election earlier this year. Things might have turned out very differently at the general election, considering how influential the black British vote can be at deciding elections.
Letwin’s now known comments will die down - but I will remember them the next time I’m at the ballot box.
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