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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Letwin echoes civil rights dream
Oliver Letwin
Letwin: Wants to renew community spirit
The Conservatives must no longer be seen as the party of "leafy suburbs" and become the "party of the inner cities", says shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin.

In a speech in Brixton, London, on Wednesday, Mr Letwin echoed Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" speech as his party pushes for support from ethnic minority voters.

Mr Letwin says his party wants to help renew community spirit in Britain's towns and cities.

Outlining the Tories' vision of a "fair deal for everyone", he said the Tories must ensure nobody is held back and no-one is left behind.

"To fulfil that commitment, the Conservative Party has to be the party of the inner cities," Mr Letwin told community volunteers.

Dream

Despite his appeal, Westminster is the only inner city constituency held by the Tories.

But Mr Letwin argued: "We have to believe in our dream of sustainable social progress in the inner cities.

I believe in the miracle of the establishment of a neighbourly society - the bringing about of sustainable social programmes in our inner cities
Oliver Letwin

"I believe that my political opponents - and many of the commentators - think that the establishment of a neighbourly society in our inner cities is no more than a pleasing, nostalgic pipe dream.

"They think that the problems of the inner cities are so vast as to be insoluble.

"They regard the idea of what I have called sustainable social progress in the inner cities as desirable but naive.

"I do not agree with them."

Miracles

Mr Letwin's decision to echo assassinated civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King is being seen as a conscious attempt to win new support among black voters.

He continued: "I recently described myself as a naive optimist who believed in miracles. I am, and I do.

"I believe in the miracle of the establishment of a neighbourly society - the bringing about of sustainable social programmes in our inner cities.

"Yes, this is a dream. But only in the sense in which Martin Luther King used that term in his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

"It was the greatest speech of the 20th century, and the dream he dreamed that day has surely been coming true ever since.

"We too must have the capacity to dream - and the will to make our dreams come true."

'Celebrity society'

Mr Letwin focused on three schemes - in Brixton, Haringey in north London and in Birmingham - where "miracles" of community regeneration had been achieved "by faith and hope".

He also attacked Britain's "celebrity society", stressing that "David and Victoria Beckham's comings and goings attract more attention than an earthquake in Algeria".

"We now live in a society in which millions of our citizens prefer to vote characters off reality TV programmes - using their mobile phones at 25 pence a shot - rather than turn up at polling booths for elections," he said.

"Behind the glitz and glamour of much of modern life there is an underbelly of material and spiritual poverty.

"One estimate ... suggests that 20% of the population live in 3,000 troubled inner and outer city neighbourhoods. A further 10% teeter on the brink.

"Add to this the knowledge that a crime is committed every five seconds, that criminals only have a 3% chance of being convicted and that 75% of young offenders reoffend following their sentences, and the 'celebrity society' begins to look very threadbare indeed."




SEE ALSO:
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