A resident films a police officer on his mobile phone during disturbances in Hackney, London on August 8, 201
A resident films a police officer on his mobile phone during disturbances in Hackney, London on August 8, 201

A newly-released government memo from 1985 has sparked outcry because of its recommendation to block community funding for black inner city youth in the wake of the Broadwater Farm riots.

David Cameron's senior advisor Oliver Letwin has apologised for urging then prime minister Margaret Thatcher that poverty and racism were not at the heart of the violence but rather "individual... bad moral attitudes".

He also wrote that white people are less prone to rioting than black people:

Lower-class, unemployed white people lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order on anything like the present scale... 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.

While the language is more inflammatory in Letwin's 30-year-old private memo, compare and contrast how Michael Gove, then Education Secretary, commented during the 2011 riots without specifying race:

As the BBC reported in 2011: "Mr Gove said that poverty or disadvantage should not be blamed for the violence, saying that ultimately it was a question of morals and values."

He told the broadcaster:

There are people in tough circumstances who would never think of stealing. And I think it's an insult to the majority of people in this country who are trying hard, at a difficult time to make the best of their lives, to somehow link poverty and criminality.

Gove went on to say not everyone falls prey to the "instant gratification" of "gangsta culture".

The Broadwater Farm riots broke out after the death of resident Cynthia Jarrett, who died of heart failure when police broke into her home on 5th October 1985. Police later said they were looking for stolen goods, although none were found.

The August 2011 riots, which spread quickly to other English cities, were ignited by the police killing in Tottenham of Mark Duggan. Although the official version of his death has undergone several changes, in 2013 it was ruled as lawful.

In both instances, institutional racism and social deprivation were cited as the root causes of frustrations that boiled over into violence.

HT: Tom Mills

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