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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Raising the spirit of Martin Luther King

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

King led US civil rights campaign
Oliver Letwin has a dream.

Like Martin Luther King before him, the Tory home affairs spokesman dreams of a time when those once excluded - exiled to the fringes - will be welcomed in as equals.

Unlike the famous assassinated US civil rights activist, however, the excluded group Mr Letwin is talking about is the Tory party.

And where does he want this reviled group to be welcomed with open arms? - Britain's troubled inner cities where, with the unexceptional exception of Westminster, it has no representatives.

Equally, Mr Letwin is sending a clear message to his own party that it must be more welcoming to blacks and Asians in its ranks.

It cannot remain the party simply of the leafy suburbs - although some might say even that would be a good start.

Inner cities

He will take his message to inner city areas such as Brixton, declaring: "I recently described myself as a naive optimist who believed in miracles. I am, and I do. "

He will recall Dr King's famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, describing it as the greatest speech of the 20th century.

And he will say that his own personal dream of: "the establishment of a neighbourly society - the bringing about of sustainable social programmes in our inner cities" echoes that of Dr King's.

It is a brave man, and a particularly brave Tory, who raises the spirit of Martin Luther King in such a manner.

Letwin's liberal credentials
And it is a pretty brave step for Mr Letwin to voice similar sentiments to those raised by Tory Chairman Teresa May at last October's party conference.

She said the Tories had to become more inclusive and cast off their image as the "nasty party."

Mr Letwin doesn't use the same language, but his message is just as sharp.

Liberal leanings

Unless the Tory party finally loses its image of intolerance and starts winning over support in the inner cities and amongst ethnic groups, it risks perpetual opposition.

By making this speech he is inviting the put down "you are no Martin Luther King."

But, if anybody in the Tory party can pull this off then it is Mr Letwin.

His liberal leanings are well known - he's not dubbed Oliver Leftwing for nothing - and he has a deserved reputation inside Tory HQ as a good media performer who presents a sensible, reasonable and caring face.

He also knows, however, that the party will be judged on actions more than words.

Voters will need to see more Tory parliamentary candidates from the ethnic minorities for example.

It is an ambition it has long held and Mr Letwin's words will be seen as the clearest possible warning that this time it must be for real.

Letwin's dream for Tory change
25 Jun 03  |  Politics
Letwin's hope for 'miraculous' win
14 May 03  |  Politics

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