Sir Oliver Letwin, 1]) is a British Conservative politician. He has served as Member of Parliament for West Dorset since 1997. He was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster from 2014 to 2016.(born 19 May 1956[
Following the 2015 general election, Letwin was given overall responsibility for the Cabinet Office and became a full member of the Cabinet in the Conservative government. Previously, he had been the Minister of State for Government Policy from 2010.
He is also chairman of the Conservative Research Department and chaired the Conservative Party's Policy Review from 2005 to 2010.
Letwin is the son of William Letwin (14 December 1922 – 20 February 2013), emeritus professor at the London School of Economics, and the conservative academic Shirley Robin Letwin; His parents were "Jewish-American intellectuals from Chicago whose parents had fled persecution from Kiev".
He was educated at The Hall School, Hampstead, at Eton College and then at Trinity College, Cambridge. While a student at Cambridge, Letwin was a member of the Cambridge University Liberal Club. When asked about his membership of the Liberal Club he explained: "I was also a member of the Fabian Society. But I am sorry to have to tell you that this was because I was interested in the thoughts of Liberals and Fabians (and still am) rather than because I was ever a Liberal Democrat or a Fabian."
From 1980 to 1981, Letwin was a visiting fellow (a Procter Fellow) of Princeton University, then a research fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge, from 1981 until 1982. His thesis, Emotion and Emotions, earned a PhD awarded by the Cambridge Philosophy Faculty in 1982.
Letwin married Isabel Davidson in 1984; the couple have two children.
After two strangers on his London street had asked if they could use his lavatory in 2002, and he agreed to let them do so, they then stole his credit cards and other belongings. He retrieved his credit cards after chasing the accomplices in his dressing gown and pyjamas.
From 1983 to 1986, he was a member of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Policy Unit.
According to official government documents from 1985, released in December 2014 under the 30 years rule, Letwin recommended the Prime Minister to "use Scotland as a trail-blazer for the pure residence charge", i.e. the controversial Community Charge or 'Poll tax', having trialled it there first, and to implement it nationwide should "the exemplifications prove... it is feasible."
Another 1985 internal memo released in December 2015 showed Letwin's response to the Broadwater Farm riot, which blamed the violence on the "bad moral attitudes" of the predominantly Afro-Caribbean rioters, claiming that "lower-class, unemployed white people lived for years without a breakdown of public order on anything like the present scale". It also criticised some of the schemes proposed to address inner-city problems, suggesting David Young's proposed scheme to support black entrepreneurs would founder because the money would be spent on the "disco and drug trade”. Letwin later apologised, saying that parts of the memo had been "both badly worded and wrong."
Letwin co-authored Britain's biggest enterprise: ideas for radical reform of the NHS, a 1988 Centre for Policy Studies pamphlet written with John Redwood which advocated a closer relationship between the National Health Service and the private sector. This is regarded as providing a theoretical justification for NHS reforms carried out by subsequent governments, particularly the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
Letwin stood unsuccessfully against Diane Abbott in Hackney North and Stoke Newington at the 1987 election, and against Glenda Jackson for the Hampstead and Highgate seat in the 1992 election.
He won the historically safe Conservative seat of West Dorset at the 1997 general election, achieving a majority of 1,840 votes over the next candidate.
As Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Conservative Party William Hague appointed Letwin as a member of his Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury in September 2000. He supported Michael Portillo and Michael Howard in their consecutive tenures as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.
He had previously been an official Opposition spokesman on Constitutional Affairs, Scotland and Wales from 1998, and was promoted to Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1999.
During the campaign for the 2001 general election, Letwin expressed an aspiration to curtail future public spending by £20 billion per annum relative to the plans of the Labour government. When this proposal came under attack as regressive, Letwin found few of his colleagues to defend it, and he adopted a low profile for the remainder of the campaign. He went into hiding during the 2001 election. At this election, his majority in his West Dorset constituency was cut to 1,414 votes.
In September 2001, he was appointed Shadow Home Secretary by the new Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith. In this role, he attracted plaudits for his advocacy of a "neighbourly society", which manifested itself in calls for street by street neighbourhood policing, modelled on the philosophy of the police in New York. He was also largely credited with forcing the then Home Secretary to withdraw his proposal in 2001 to introduce an offence of incitement to religious hatred. He successfully argued that such an offence would be impossible to define, so there would be little chance of prosecution. He also argued that Muslims would feel persecuted by such a law. In late 2003, Michael Howard appointed Letwin as his successor as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. As Shadow Chancellor he focused on reducing waste in the public sector.
At the 2005 general election, the Conservative Party claimed to have found £35 billion worth of potential savings, to be used for increased resources for front-line services and for tax cuts. This approach was credited with forcing the government to introduce bureaucracy reduction and cost-cutting proposals of their own. In May 2005, Letwin's majority in his seat increased to 2,461 votes. After the election, Letwin was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Times reported that he had requested a role less onerous than his former Treasury brief so that he would have time to pursue his career in the City. Until December 2009, he was a non-executive director of the merchant bank NM Rothschild Corporate Finance Ltd.
Following Michael Howard's decision to stand down as Conservative Party leader after the 2005 election, Letwin publicly backed the youngest candidate and eventual winner David Cameron.
In the lead-up to the 2010 general election, Letwin played an important role in the development of Conservative policy, and was described by Daniel Finkelstein as "the Gandalf of the process". The 2010 general election saw him increase his majority to 3,923 votes.
British Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Letwin to the newly-created office of Minister of State for Government Policy in the newly-formed Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government in May 2010. His responsibilities included developing government policies with the Cabinet Office, as set out in the Coalition's programme for government, as well as implementing departmental business plans. He also attended the Cabinet, although not as a full member or Cabinet Minister.
Letwin was appointed as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on 14 July 2014, succeeding Lord Hill of Oareford who became the United Kingdom 's next European Commissioner. Letwin also continued in his role as Minister for Policy until the 2015 general election, when the position was abolished.
He was returned with a much increased majority of 16,130 votes by his West Dorset constituents at the 2015 general election. Following that election, Letwin remained Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cameron also appointed him as a full member of the new Conservative government's Cabinet with responsibility for overall charge and oversight of the Cabinet Office.
After the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016, the new Prime Minister Theresa May put Letwin in charge of the "Brexit unit" on 14 July; and he ceased to be the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Letwin maintains the public is willing to increase taxes carefully for large numbers of people to pay for improved public services. Letwin said, “It may well be, in one way or another, a large number of people will have to pay a little more tax if we are going to maintain the trend towards reduced deficits and yet spend a little more on the crucial public services that do need more spent on them”. Letwin wants to see better public services rather than higher public sector pay. Letwin believes reducing the deficit is important so Britain is protected when the next downturn comes.
In 1985 Letwin and Hartley Booth wrote a five-page document as members of then-Prime Minister Thatcher's policy unit in response to the widespread 1985 unrest in Britain’s inner cities – with riots in Broadwater Farm estates in Tottenham, North London, Handsworth, Brixton, Peckham and Toxteth. In the paper Letwin and Booth urged "Thatcher to ignore reports that rioting in mainly black urban areas was the result of social deprivation and racism." In 1985 Letwin was then considered to be a "young star" of the Conservative Party. The memo scorned suggestions by senior cabinet ministers to set up a £10 million communities programme to tackle inner-city problems by helping black entrepreneurs start businesses as suggested by then-Employment Secretary David Young, refurbishing public housing council blocks as suggested by then-Environment Secretary Kenneth Baker and "establishing training programmes for low-income youth."
Letwin claimed it would not ameliorate the situation but would do little more than "subsidise Rastafarian arts and crafts workshops" stating that black "entrepreneurs will set up in the disco and drug trade." When the 1985 paper was released to public record by the Cabinet Office along with other Whitehall papers under accelerated procedures of the 30 years rule into the public record through the National Archives in Kew, West London on 30 December 2015, a chastened Letwin apologised on the same day for "the offence caused."
"Following reports tonight, 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."—Oliver Letwin, Statement 30 December 2015
Trevor Phillips OBE, former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission observed that, "I don’t think these remarks would have raised a single eyebrow at the time."
The 1985 Broadwater Farm memo argued the riots were caused by bad behaviour not social conditions. The policy unit proposed a programme for creating "better attitudes," including measures to encourage the establishment of 'old-fashioned independent schools' which Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong warned in 1985 constituted social engineering.
"The root of social malaise is not poor housing, or youth 'alienation' or the lack of a middle class....Lower-class, unemployed white people lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order on anything like the present scale; in the midst of the depression, people in Brixton went out, leaving their grocery money in a bag at the front door, and expecting to see groceries there when they got back...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...[Lord] Young’s new entrepreneurs will set up in the disco and drug trade; Kenneth Baker’s refurbished council blocks will decay through vandalism combined with neglect; and people will graduate from temporary training or employment programmes into unemployment or crime."—Oliver Letwin and Hartley Booth. November 1985. Policy Broadwater Farm memo to Prime Minister Thatcher (released to public domain on 30 December 2015)
Labour MP Chuka Umunna said the tone of the memo was "positively Victorian." "The attitudes towards the black community exhibited in the paper are disgusting and appalling...The authors of this paper illustrate a complete ignorance of what was going on in our community at that time, as evidenced by their total and utter disregard of the rampant racism in the Met Police which caused the community to boil over – there is no mention of that racism in their paper." In July 2014 the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, apologised "unreservedly" for the shooting and the time it had taken to say sorry" following an inquest into the death of Dorothy "Cherry" Groce, whose shooting by the Metropolitan Police triggered the riots. The jury inquest blamed the Metropolitan Police for failures that contributed to Groce's death.
The Daily Telegraph reported in 2009 that Letwin agreed to repay a bill for £2,145 for replacing a leaking pipe under the tennis court at his constituency home in Dorset, which he had claimed on his parliamentary expenses.
Speaking to consultancy firm KPMG on 27 July 2011, Letwin caused controversy after stating that you cannot have "innovation and excellence" without "real discipline and some fear on the part of the providers" in the public sector. This was widely reported, with The Guardian headline stating Letwin says 'public sector workers need "discipline and fear"'.
In October 2011 the Daily Mirror reported a story that Letwin had thrown away more than 100 secret government documents in public bins in St. James's Park, with no real care to dispose of them properly. Enquiries made by the Information Commissioner's Office found that although Letwin did not dispose of any government documents, he had in fact disposed of constituents' personal and confidential letters to him and therefore did breach data protection rules. Letwin later apologised for his actions.