Oliver Letwin

The Right Honourable
Sir Oliver Letwin
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
14 July 2014  14 July 2016
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by The Lord Hill of Oareford
Succeeded by Patrick McLoughlin
Minister of State for Government Policy
In office
12 May 2010  11 May 2015
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
Director of the Brexit Unit
In office
24 June 2016  14 July 2016
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
David Davis (Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union)
Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
In office
10 May 2005  6 December 2005
Leader Michael Howard
Succeeded by Peter Ainsworth
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
6 November 2003  10 May 2005
Leader Michael Howard
Preceded by Michael Howard
Succeeded by George Osborne
Shadow Home Secretary
In office
18 September 2001  6 November 2003
Leader Iain Duncan Smith
Preceded by Ann Widdecombe
Succeeded by David Davis
Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
In office
26 September 2000  18 September 2001
Leader William Hague
Preceded by David Heathcoat-Amory
Succeeded by John Bercow
Member of Parliament
for West Dorset
Assumed office
1 May 1997
Preceded by James Spicer
Majority 16,130 (28.6%)
Personal details
Born (1956-05-19) 19 May 1956
London, England
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Isabel Davidson (1984–present)
Children 2
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
University of London
Religion None (atheist)
Website Official website

Sir Oliver Letwin (born 19 May 1956)[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.

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. He had previously been Minister of State for Government Policy from 2010 and 2015.[2]

He is also chairman of the Conservative Research Department and chaired the Conservative Party's Policy Review from 2005 to 2010.

Early life

Professor William Letwin

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,[3][4] "Jewish-American intellectuals from Chicago whose parents had fled persecution from Kiev".[5]

He was educated at the Hall School, Hampstead, then at Eton, and finally at Trinity College, Cambridge.[6]

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."[7]

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.[8] His thesis, Emotion and Emotions, earned a PhD awarded by the Cambridge Philosophy Faculty in 1982.[9]

Political career

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."[10]

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."[11][12][13]

Letwin coauthored 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.[14]

Letwin unsuccessfully stood against Diane Abbott at the 1987 election for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and against Glenda Jackson for the Hampstead and Highgate seat in the 1992 election.

He went on to win the historically safe Conservative seat of West Dorset at the 1997 general election, although he only achieved a majority of 1,840 votes over the next candidate.

Shadow cabinet

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 understudied both 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 allies among his colleagues prepared to defend it, and adopted a low profile for the remainder of the campaign. He famously went into 'hiding' during the 2001 election, and for some time after the election.

At this election, his majority in his West Dorset constituency was cut to 1,414 votes. There was speculation as to whether he could retain his seat if Labour voters voted tactically for the Liberal Democrats in order to unseat him.

In September 2001 he was appointed Shadow Home Secretary by 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, the next party leader, 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 election the Conservative Party claimed to have found £35bn 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.

At the 2005 general election Letwin's majority in his seat increased to 2,461 votes.[15]

In May 2005, 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.[16] Until December 2009, he was a non-executive director of the merchant bank NM Rothschild Corporate Finance Ltd.[17]

Following the decision by Michael Howard 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".[18] The 2010 election saw him increase his majority to 3,923 votes.[19]

Government and Cabinet Minister

British Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Letwin to the newly created office of Minister of State for Government Policy in the new 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 an 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. He was given responsibility for overall charge and oversight of the Cabinet Office. After the UK voted to leave the EU, Letwin was put in charge of the 'brexit unit'.[20]

Letwin was removed from his position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on 14 July 2016 under the new Prime Minister Theresa May.[21]


1985 Broadwater Farm memo controversy

In 1985 Letwin and Hartley Booth wrote a five-page document[22] 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.[23][24][25][25][26] 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."[27] 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 £10m communities programme to tackle inner-city problems by helping black entrepreneurs start businesses as suggested by then-Home Secretary David Young, refurbishing public housing council blocks as suggested by then-Environment Secretary Kenneth Baker and "establishing training programs 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."[28]

"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

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[22] on 30 December 2015, a chastened Letwin apologised on the same day for "the offence caused."[27][28] 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."[29]

The 1985 Broadwater Farm memo argued the riots were caused by bad behaviour not social conditions.[30] 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.[22]

"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."[22] 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.[25][25][26]


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.[31]

Public sector reform

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"'.[32]

Government document disposal

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.[33][34] 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.[35] Letwin later apologised for his actions.

Personal life

Letwin married Isabel Davidson in 1984; they have two children together.

As the son of Jewish parents, Letwin was criticised by the Daily Mail in June 2013 for editing his own Wikipedia profile to change information regarding his faith. His religion was changed to atheism. Letwin confirmed one of his staff had removed the reference listing his religion as ‘Judaism’ as "although his family background is Jewish, he is now an atheist", the newspaper reported.[36]

In 2003, The Independent reported Letwin saying that he would "go out on the streets and beg" rather than send his children to the state schools in Lambeth where he and his family lived.[37][38]

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.[39][40]


See also


  1. "Election Guide 2010 » Dorset West". UK Polling Report. 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  2. "Minister of State for Government Policy". GOV.UK. 11 May 2015. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  3. McDonagh, Melanie (20 February 2004). "Letwin's parents are the key to his soul – Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. London: TMG. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  4. White, Michael (7 December 2012). "Oliver Letwin: more at home in a senior common room than at a public meeting". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  5. "Obituary: Professor William Letwin". The Daily Telegraph. London: TMG. 4 March 2013. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  6. "Oliver Letwin MP: Personal Details". Westminster Parliamentary Record. 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  7. Blackhurst, Chris (12 January 2011). "Oliver Letwin is the reasonable politician who bankers feel they can trust". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  8. "Oliver Letwin MP: Non Parliamentary Career". Westminster Parliamentary Record. 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  9. "Newton Library Catalogues". Cambridge University Library. 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  10. "Oliver Letwin's memorandum recommending Scottish poll tax trial in 1985". The Guardian. 30 December 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  11. "Letwin apologises over 1985 Broadwater Farm riot memo". BBC. 30 December 2015. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  12. Holton, Kate (30 December 2015). "British policy chief apologises for 30-year-old race comments". Reuters. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  13. "Oliver Letwin blocked help for black youth after 1985 riots". The Guardian. London. 30 December 2015.
  14. Reynolds, Dr. Lucy; Lister, Dr. John; Scott-Samuel, Dr. Alex; McKee, Professor Martin (29 August 2011). "Liberating the NHS: source and destination of the Lansley reform" (PDF). University of Liverpool. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  15. "Election 2005 Results: Dorset West". BBC News. London: BBC. 23 May 2005. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  16. "Letwin asks for less demanding job". Times Online. 10 May 2005.
  17. "The Register of Members' Interests, 6 September 2010". They Work For You. MySociety. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
  18. Finkelstein, Daniel (14 April 2010). "The wizard behind Cameron's little blue book". The Times. London. Retrieved 10 May 2010.
    "Profiles of men trying to negotiate a Tory-Lib Dem deal". BBC News. London. 10 May 2010. Retrieved 10 May 2010.
  19. "Election 2010 : Constituency Dorset West". BBC News. London: BBC. 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  20. "Minister for Brexit defends doing absolutely no contingency planning for Brexit". 5 July 2016. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
  21. "Theresa May's cabinet: Who's in and who's out?". BBC News. 14 July 2016. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  22. 1 2 3 4 Milmo, Cahal; Wright, Oliver; Morris, Nigel (30 December 2015). "Oliver Letwin: Minister apologises after newly-released papers reveal 'racist' attitude towards black rioters Archive revealed 'disgusting' advice delivered to Mrs Thatcher". The Independent. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  23. "1985: Riots in Brixton after police shooting". BBC News. 28 September 1985. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  24. Parry, Gareth; Tirbutt, Susan; Rose, David (30 September 1985). "From the archive: Riots in Brixton after police shooting". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  25. 1 2 3 4 "Police blamed over 1985 Cherry Groce Brixton shooting". BBC News. 10 July 2014. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  26. 1 2 "1985: Riots erupt in Toxteth and Peckham". BBC News. 1 October 1985. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  27. 1 2 Erlanger, Steven (30 December 2015). "Release of 1985 Race Riots Memo Prompts Apology From Cameron Aide". New York Times. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  28. 1 2 Travis, Alan (30 December 2015). "Oliver Letwin blocked help for black youth after 1985 riots: Cameron's policy chief makes apology over advice to Thatcher that assistance would benefit 'disco and drug trade' and Rastafarian crafts". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  29. Perraudin, Frances (30 December 2015). "Oliver Letwin memo borders on criminality, says Darcus Howe Civil liberties campaigner condemns comments about black communities made in 1985 as David Cameron's policy chief issues an apology". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  30. "Letwin apologises over 1985 Broadwater Farm riot memo". BBC. 30 December 2015. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  31. Rayner, Gordon (13 May 2009). "Oliver Letwin repays £2,000 tennis court bill". The Daily Telegraph. London: TMG. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  32. Boffey, Daniel (30 July 2015). "Public sector workers need 'discipline and fear', says Oliver Letwin: Coalition's policy chief on reforms believes excellence would be achieved through fear of losing jobs and real discipline". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  33. Gregory, Andrew (14 October 2011). "Oliver Letwin caught throwing away secret papers in public bins". Daily Mirror. London: Trinity Mirror. ISSN 9975-9950. OCLC 223228477. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  34. Kirkup, James (14 October 2011). "Oliver Letwin: Cabinet Office minister threw documents into park bins". The Daily Telegraph. London: TMG. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  35. "Oliver Letwin breached data protection laws, report confirms: Information commissioner forces minister who dumped documents in park bin to sign pledge on personal data", The Guardian, 15 November 2011, retrieved 30 December 2015
  36. Smith, Mike Deri; Conrad, Mark (3 June 2013). "Now Cabinet Minister Oliver Letwin is caught editing his own profile on Wikipedia". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  37. Clarkson, Jeremy (2004). "Chapter 74". The World According to Clarkson. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-101789-9.
  38. Waugh, Paul (10 October 2003). "Letwin: I'd rather beg than send child to inner-city school". The Independent. London: INM. ISSN 0951-9467. OCLC 185201487. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  39. Eden, Richard (6 May 2012). "Wealthy Cabinet minister Oliver Letwin takes in lodgers at his London home". The Daily Telegraph. London: TMG. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  40. "Tories signal law and order shift". BBC News. London: BBC. 8 January 2002. Retrieved 19 February 2015.

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Spicer
Member of Parliament
for West Dorset

Political offices
Preceded by
Ann Widdecombe
Shadow Home Secretary
Succeeded by
David Davis
Preceded by
Michael Howard
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
George Osborne
Preceded by
Richard Ottaway
as Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment
Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Succeeded by
Peter Ainsworth
New office Minister of State for Government Policy
Position abolished
Preceded by
The Lord Hill of Oareford
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Succeeded by
Patrick McLoughlin
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