Margaret Thatcher considered arming the police during the riots of 1981, whilst a section of her government counselled that Liverpool should be abandoned to ‘managed decline’.
The information has been released under the 30-year rule from the National Archive files.
A secret Home Office report in Thatcher’s personal file warned her in April that ‘spontaneous disorder’ was likely amongst ethic minority communities.
The early 80s were, like now, marked by recession and mass unemployment, particularly amongst youth, and in black and Asian communities.
Riots broke out in Brixton first, driven by tensions with policing, and then in Toxteth in July.
Whilst Thatcher and Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw agreed that sending in the army ‘could not be contemplated’, they considered it after calls from a Liverpool MP before turning to arming the police.
Thatcher visited the Metropolitan Police and spent more than seven hours with the commissioner, only leaving New Scotland Yard at three in the morning.
The police demanded shields, protective clothing, water cannon, CS gas, rubber bullets and surveillance helicopters and also a new Riot Act, which did not come for another five years with the Public Order Act of 1986.
July 11 saw renewed rioting in London, in Brixton, Battersea, Clapham, Streatham, Hackney and Acton.
Cars were burned in Southall, and petrol bombs thrown in Dalston.
Stoke Newington police station was attacked.
In the aftermath of the riots, Thatcher sent her henchman Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine to Merseyside to lead a programme of ‘regeneration’ starting with a two-and-a-half-week fact-finding mission.
In the background, her Chancellor, Geoffrey Howe, was saying disparagingly that spending money on Liverpool was ‘like trying to make water flow uphill’, and advising a programme of ‘managed decline’ for what he considered the ‘stony ground’ of Merseyside.
Sir Geoffrey wrote to Mrs Thatcher: ‘We do not want to find ourselves concentrating all the limited cash that may have to be made available into Liverpool and having nothing left for possibly more promising areas such as the West Midlands or, even, the North East.
‘I cannot help feeling that the option of managed decline is one which we should not forget altogether. We must not expend all our limited resources in trying to make water flow uphill.’
The head of the No 10 policy unit, John Hoskyns, endorsed Howe, warning: ‘This money is likely to be money wasted.
‘Neither the chosen minister nor Whitehall as a whole, will have much idea of how to tackle the real problem-solving task, as distinct from the (important) political gesture.’
Heseltine, who wanted an annual budget of £100m, insisted that he needed real powers to act.
But when ministers met that September to discuss his proposals, the Treasury said it would be ‘impossible’ to fix a sum in advance without seeing exactly how the money would be spent.
• PRIME Minister Thatcher sanctioned MI6 in sending a go-between to the Maze hunger strikers in 1981 to negotiate with the Provisional IRA leadership, the 30-year release of official papers show.
At one point, Thatcher’s handwriting annotates a secret message of July 6, offering concessions about clothing, parcels and visits if the hunger strike was called off.
This was while the official position of the government was denial of negotiations and that no special status would be awarded to Republican prisoners.
At that time, four prisoners were dead and Bobby Sands, one of the dead, had been elected MP. Force feeding was under consideration for the survivors.
The concessions were rejected.
A memo to Thatcher from Humphrey Atkins (Northern Ireland Secretary) confirms ‘sending of the message which you approved last night’.
Thatcher’s government was weakening over ‘increasingly disturbing signs of an erosion of international confidence in British policy’ over northern Ireland, papers reveal.
The last straw was the prospect of an intervention by the previous prime minister Callaghan proposing a British pull-out and Irish independence.