Gerald Isaaman finds much to offend in Oliver Letwin’s account of the Tory party’s recent history
10 November, 2017 — By Gerald Isaaman
HE picked the wrong moment to seek to become the Tory MP for the then constituency of Hampstead & Highgate. And Oliver Letwin was hit by a four per cent swing again him and ended up defeated by 1,440 votes in 1992.
But then – and not for the first time – the ambitious Letwin blundered, having been defeated by Diane Abbott in Hackney and Stoke Newington in 1987.
This time he lost out to Glenda Jackson, who was making her debut in Labour politics in the wake of defeats in Hampstead for Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell.
Look where they are now – Livingstone suspended from the party for anti-semitic sneers, and McDonnell at the top of the Labour tree as the potential next Chancellor.
Eventually becoming the MP for West Dorset, he clambered up the political tree to become a member of William Hague’s Shadow Cabinet. Then Letwin backed David Cameron as prime minister and was given the newly created office of Minister of State for Government Policy, subsequently becoming the Cabinet Office minister.
The Brexit disaster – and Letwin was in charge of the government’s Brexit unit – followed. And when Cameron resigned and Theresa May entered No 10 unlucky Letwin was booted out, along with Chancellor George Osborne.
Quite a catastrophe for the lad educated at the Hall School, Hampstead, Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge.
In fact, Letwin’s lack-lustre career as the smarty pants who knew all the answers is important to record because it is part of the reason the nation is now down on its knees.
And to prove the point Letwin, now knighted at 61, has taken his time out of high office to write Hearts and Minds, a new tome subtitled The Battle for the Conservative Party From Thatcher To The Present.
The immediate conclusion to this “important new volume by one of Britain’s leading liberal thinkers”, as the blurb describes Letwin, is that it is stuffed with excuses over failed policies of the past and simply adds naïve platitudes in place of practical action.
For example, reviewing the history of the Tory party since 1979, he uses an arcane phrase to admit its “failure to recognise the imprisonment of some souls by their social circumstances was one of the two most important causes of the political malaise from which we Conservatives suffered in the years after 1997”.
And he also lists two major regrets in failing to fight against the build-up of government borrowing and rising debt in the private sector, both of which Lib-Dem MP Vince Cable had warned about.
As to the banking crisis, he adds: “I cannot claim to have prophesied such doom. But I was at least clear that it was highly imprudent for the Chancellor to be running deficits in the boom years, thereby failing to mend the roof while the sun was shining… I should, I now believe, have pressed this further by arguing for a sharper slowdown in public spending growth.”
Indeed, Letwin’s final words demand that the Tories learn from the past successes and failures over the past half century, to give them “the task to recapture that optimism and to help the nation recover”.
He insists “that way lies victory, prosperity and social justice” when the slowly dying NHS, social care, local authorities, the police and essential legal services, the chronic lack of housing, pot-holed roads galore, education and much else has been starved of funding.
What an impertinence from a failed politician whose past mistakes still haunt him – and us.
He actually admits in his introduction: “I have steadfastly avoided any suggestion that Conservatives over this period have been following some perfect blueprint. On the contrary, I have tried to highlight the evolution of ideas and policies – as I and others gradually discerned things that were missing or defective.
“I hope that, by telling the story in this way, I may persuade the reader of another unfashionable proposition: that politicians are capable of recognising their mistakes and learning from them.”
Letwin obviously isn’t joking and takes his mission seriously. Perhaps he is seeking forgiveness for his many past gaffes?
Remember how he had to go into hiding during the 2001 election campaign after falsely claiming the Tories wanted to slash public pending by £20bn, not the actual announced sum of £8bn, which was bad enough?
Letwin’s loose use of mathematics was in evidence again in the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal when he agreed to repay a bill of £2,145 for replacing a leaking pipe under the tennis court of his Dorset constituency home.
Again in 2011 he hit the headlines by suggesting that innovation and excellence was not achievable without public service workers being put under “real discipline and fear”.
That same year he had to apologise for dumping constituents’ personal and confidential letters to him in public litter bins in St James’s Park.
Hearts and minds are obviously not enough when it comes to paying rising mortgages and rents, buying basic food, getting to work in over-crowded, late trains or glued-up, polluted roads, waited four hours in A&E or simply making ends meet while Brexit delay is hitting thousands of City jobs and causing havoc to the future of major and minor businesses.
That’s the dire and devastating state we are in thanks to the broken pledges of Tories like benighted Oliver Letwin.
No wonder the British people have lost faith in politics, let alone equality.
• Hearts and Minds. By Oliver Letwin, Biteback Publishing, £20