Oliver Letwin’s Memo and Tory Racism

Yesterday, documents released to the public under the thirty-year rule included a memo Oliver Letwin wrote to Maggie Thatcher on the riots in 1985. These included a number of racist statements revealing Letwin’s contempt and absolute lack of any kind of sympathy or understanding of Black Britons and the problems facing them at that time. He denied that the rioting was due to racism, despite the fact that this was extremely well-documented in the Met police. He stated that riots, and the problems of crime, and social inequality plaguing the Black community were due to their moral defects and declared that White people didn’t riot. This comes as news to me, as one of the areas in Bristol that has been hit by rioting is Hartcliffe. This was a council estate, built in the 1960s as dormer suburb to house the workers at the local Wills tobacco factory. It also has had its problems with high crime and increasing marginalisation. It’s population is also largely White. Letwin also didn’t want to see ‘positive discrimination’ introduced, and sneered at welfare spending on the Black poor stating that they would merely use the money for discos and drugs.

Mike has covered the report at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/30/the-5-most-shocking-quotes-in-oliver-letwins-racist-memo/

Letwin has apologised for the memo. Nevertheless, it’s contents are so offensive that the long-time Black activist, Darcus Howe, has stated that it borders on the criminal. He had no confidence in David Cameron to do anything for the Black people of Britain, and called on Corbyn to use this incident to show his support for British Blacks, and that Labour was no longer the party of Blair and the two Milibands.

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/31/oliver-letwin-memo-borders-on-criminality-says-darcus-howe/

I’ve mixed feelings about Howe. At times his attitudes are too bitter, and he does seem determined to put the worst racist interpretation on matters. A few years ago at the turn of the century one of the terrestrial TV channels did a programme in which he looked at the Caribbean today, and its heritage. The tone was almost unrelentingly bitter. He seemed to hate the fact that portraits of the historic leaders of one of the Caribbean nations were still on the walls of the country’s legislature, and condemned the four hundred years or so of British rule in the West Indies for the suffering this had inflicted on his people. In this, obviously, he has a point. The economies of the Caribbean nations were built on slavery almost from the moment they were colonised by Europeans. Many of the leading figures in colonial society – the governors and presidents – were slave-owners and the architects of the racist social and economic system on the islands. Having said that, there is still an argument for keeping their pictures around, as they are part of the history of the Caribbean nations. Regardless of how immoral the regime over which they presided was, they were still founders of the modern Caribbean states and so need to be remembered, even though their racial attitudes and policies totally deserve to be condemned.

Elsewhere, Howe seemed to have missed the point. There was a group of White West Indians, including a few White Brits, down by the docks toasting the victories of the British navy over the Spanish. Howe raged that they were celebrating the enslavement of his people. But they weren’t. They were celebrating the British navy repeatedly defeating the Spanish. Now at the time those victories were part of the British campaign to wrest the Caribbean from the Spanish Empire, and developing it using slave labour. But the Brits did not toast the introduction of slavery or the enslavement of Blacks. It was a nationalist, rather than racist, celebration. And really all about jolly British tars like Walter Raleigh singeing the king of Spain’s beard. Slavery was not mentioned.

But here Howe does have a point. And, despite Letwin’s apologies, and recent Tory attempts to win over Black voters, I really don’t think attitudes have changed in the Tory party. I’ve been told by former party members that the Tory party generally doesn’t like Blacks. Mind you, they also despise the White poor.

The attitude of the Conservative party and New Labour is that poverty is caused by the moral failings of the individual. If you’re poor, it’s because you’re lazy, or ‘feckless’, in the words of Gordon Brown. ATOS and now Maximus were called in to administer the ‘fitness for work’ tests in order to prevent as many people as possible claiming invalidity benefit. As very many bloggers have pointed out, including the Angry Yorkshireman and Johnny Void, modern Tory welfare policy is centred on the Victorian concept of ‘less eligibility’. Welfare is supposed to be made as difficult and demeaning as possible in order to deter people from claiming it.

And I’ve no doubt the majority of Tories really are afraid that giving the poor money is wasteful, and that they will just use it on ‘discos and drugs’, or alcohol and superfluous consumer products that they shouldn’t be able to afford.

So I’m not impressed by Letwin’s apology either. It may well be that he’s moved on, and is no longer as racist as he was. But the same attitudes towards poverty and social exclusion remain at the very centre of the Tory party and their attitudes towards the poor and working class, and particularly, but by no means exclusively, Blacks.

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