The problem with 30 year old memos

CXdaLpIWsAEYaqa CXdaLipWwAA3e28Its baffling, how something written by very highly educated and intelligent men could be presented at the heart of Government and then be so easily dismissed 30 years later. This is particularly odd bearing in mind the current focus on the Magna Carta which is over 900 years old and still holds relevance to our Government and the nation. The latest set of papers released by the National Archives include the images above and have been responded to by Oliver Letwin who was one of the two co-authors of the document. Following his education at Eton he was educated to Phd level at Cambridge. He is currently the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, serving as a senior Government Minister and despite the many stupid things he has said and done is not a fool. Letwins statement is “I want to make clear that some parts of a private memo I wrote nearly 30 years ago were both badly worded and wrong. I apologise unreservedly for any offence these comments have caused and wish to make clear that none was intended.”  The memo might well have been private, but they were nevertheless used to argue, convincingly it seems for brakes to be applied on proposed Government spending to reduce the social issues that the memo refers to. Many people on social media and in the papers argue that this is evidence that Letwin was racist at the time due to the arguments employed in the paper. On the other hand Nicholas Soames has defended his friend on twitter suggesting that he ‘does not have a racist bone in his body’ which is a statement that is just as extreme and ridiculous as some of the accusations are. The truth is that no one knows if this was a document intended to argue what Letwin believed at the time, or simply a piece to argue against the ideas of Ministers in the Thatcher Cabinet. What is clear is that these excerpts do not argue in a coherent manner for an alternative course of action, and in that sense would not pass as degree level thinking let alone doctorate level. Was Letwin suggesting that because there were no riots in the 1930’s and later, that it was perfectly reasonable for slums to exist in the mid 1980’s and beyond. It is clear that Letwin now believes that his document, previously presented to the Prime Minister and her Cabinet was badly worded and wrong. It seems clear that at the very least he needs to better explain what he was doing presenting a poor piece to the Cabinet and what he really meant to express at the time. Perhaps just as importantly, bearing in mind that his paper (or other views, not yet revealed) did slow the investment in improved social housing and employment schemes, how much he regrets the policy adopted by the Thatcher Government of the time. This would allow us to move from accusations of racist thinking (or not) to the existing ills of poor housing schemes and employment schemes.

Another paper released yesterday was by David Willetts arguing that the Government should dis-invest in Scottish public services, because the Scots had escaped the cuts of the day applied to England and Wales. He appeared to think that this would go down well with voters in the North of England, who he believed were envious of their Scottish neighbours. David Willetts is another intelligent man who once admitted that he was seen as ‘a dangerous intellectual’ by his colleagues. Mr Willetts was heard speaking on Radio 4 on Tuesday arguing that students may need to repay higher sums than at present if degrees are to be further strengthened to match the demands of our economy. Perhaps he could take the time to explain if he stands by his views from the 1980’s of the Scottish funding issue and at the same time how much of his own student funding he has repaid. He was an Oxford graduate at the same time as Oliver Letwin was at Cambridge, a time when students paid nothing for their education.


About ianchisnall

I have a passion to see public policy made accessible everyone who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as in policies on health services and strategic planning.
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