by Kevin Meagher
It’s not just the low-fi racism of Oliver Letwin’s 1985 memo to Margaret Thatcher that appalls. His dismissal of the “bad moral attitudes” of young Black men following the Broadwater Farm riots also reflects ministerial contempt towards so many other groups throughout that dismal decade.
Conservative politics in the mid-1980s was about as far from the ‘One Nation’ variant as it was possible to be. This was a government at war with large parts of the country it ran. Truly, an elective dictatorship, openly contemptuous of those that did not yield to its will.
So the “pampered Scots” were to be pitched against the “envious” north of England when it came to funding allocations. Black people were only interested in the “disco and drug trade”. Northern Ireland’s border towns should be bombed to stop republican suspects escaping to Southern Ireland.
As we well know, the miners were regarded as “the enemy within”. The entire city of Liverpool was to be subject to “managed decline” following the Toxteth riots, while the local football club’s fans were smeared in a vile cover-up over the deaths of 96 of their number at Hillsborough.
As the hapless Lewtin, possessor of an eager mind but dull wits, currently resides in political no-man’s land, waiting to see if his perfunctory apology is enough to sate the reaction against his comments, Tory strategists should perhaps ponder what other toxic memo-bombs he penned during his time running Thatcher’s policy unit. After all, this was the mid-80s, when she was at her wildest and the New Right policy wonks that fuelled her insurgency were unencumbered.
But aside from the trickle of released government papers of that time, we now also have Lowell Goddard’s wide-ranging inquiry into historic child abuse allegations. Just what will she unearth in the next few years about what ministers did or did not know in relation to the slew of allegations about that period?
What we do know is that all the invective and moral outrage directed towards Margaret Thatcher and her ministers during the 1980s was not wasted. We thought the Tories were a heartless, sneering bunch at the time.
Yesterday’s revelations now make that an evidence-based assessment.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut