Socialist Worker

Historic documents reveal bigotry at the heart of Thatcher’s government

Newly released 30 year old government documents reveal a world of racism and scheming from Cameron’s pals. Simon Basketter unearths the facts

Issue No. 2485

Oliver Letwin expressed racist views

Oliver Letwin expressed racist views (Pic: Flickr / Cabinet Office)

Documents released last month provide a glimpse into the warped thinking of the Tories.

Top Tory Oliver Letwin is David Cameron’s key policy adviser.

A memo to Margaret Thatcher was released last month by the National Archives under the 30-year rule. In it, Letwin and Hartley Booth MP slammed plans for a government scheme to invest in black business.

Letwin once wrote, “One of the things Eton taught me was not to be in any way embarrassed about being poor. Money wasn’t a basis upon which anything was judged.” He has been a central Tory figure ever since.

Letwin advised Thatcher against setting up a communities programme to combat inner-city problems because it would only “subsidise Rastafarian arts and crafts workshops”.

He argued, “Riots, criminality and social disintegration are caused solely by individual characters and attitudes. So long as bad moral attitudes remain, all efforts to improve the inner cities will founder.”

He also proclaimed, “Lower-class white people lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order”.

The paper said, “Entrepreneurs will set up in the disco and drug trade. Refurbished blocks will decay through vandalism combined with neglect and people will graduate from training or employment programmes into unemployment or crime.”

The paper was in response to the Broadwater Farm riot in Tottenham, north London. The riot followed the death of Cynthia Jarrett during a police raid.


The Tories, despite their prejudices, were reluctantly considering putting some limited investment into poor areas. Letwin was against this.

But the Tories wanted to co-opt a layer of “responsible” black leadership because they were afraid.

Broadwater farm came a week after the shooting of Cherry Groce had sparked a riot in Brixton, south London. It was the year of the Miners’ Strike. Earlier in the decade a series of riots had shook the Tories in 1981.

Letwin wasn’t the only one with racist views. The cops told Thatcher that rioters in Tottenham were building napalm bombs, according to papers from 1985.

Officers said a milk float had been stolen in the area, and that they feared the empty milk bottles would be used as grenades.

Police sources also cited local chemists who warned that “the ingredients of napalm... have been supplied to individuals in the Tottenham area”.

Margaret Thatcher replied that the supposed revelations were “disturbing”. No napalm ever emerged.

Tory PM against sex ed

Margaret Thatcher nearly vetoed an Aids awareness campaign because it would inform young people about “practices they never knew about”.

Cabinet papers from 1986 show she was worried about a section on “risky sex”.

“I remain against certain parts of this advertisement,” she said.

“I think the anxiety on the part of parents and many teenagers who would never be in danger from Aids exceeds the good it may do...

“adverts where every young person will read and hear of practices they never knew about will do harm.”

Health secretary Norman Fowler eventually replaced a section in an advert on anal sex with a single line.

Files stay locked away

Files stay locked away (Pic: Pixabay)

Secrets are kept hidden

Just 58 documents were released via the National Archives at the end of the year compared to 500 last year.

Ministerial papers on subjects that had been expected to be made available to the public were not.

These included papers on the SAS shootings in Gibraltar, the Spycatcher intelligence scandal, and the Lockerbie bombing in 1988.

Under the Public Records Act, government departments have to transfer files to the Archives or explain why they remain classified.

In the past, this had to happen before they were 30 years old, but this is being reduced to 20 years.

There are also to be monthly releases of documents.

But more frequent releases do not mean more openness if important files involving the actions of the state remain hidden.

Bombing an Irish town

Margaret Thatcher asked the Irish prime minister what the reaction would be if the British government bombed the Irish town of Dundalk.

She met Garret FitzGerald shortly after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

She also suggested setting up a new police force to be called the “B Specials”.

The B Specials had been a notorious and hated paramilitary police reserve which had been abolished in 1970.

Dundalk was bombed by British backed Loyalist paramilitaries in 1975.

Whether Thatcher was joking, making threats, merely ignorant or all three is not clear from the documents.

Scotland was a 'juicy target'

Policy adviser David Willetts told Margaret Thatcher in January 1986 that Scotland was “the only juicy target” for further cuts. He argued that inflicting cuts on Scotland would win favour with “envious” people in the north of England.

“Your economic policies stop at the English border,” he said.

“The position of the Conservative party in Scotland is so bad that it might not deteriorate any further.

“And the envious north of England might even welcome an attack on the pampered Scots over the border.”

Willetts went on to be a minister in the last government.

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