Darcus Howe welcomes a Tory to Lambeth

Brixton welcomes a Tory who understands the importance of neighbourliness

Oliver Letwin, the shadow home secretary, visited Brixton last month. He was obviously making a break with his predecessors in the shadow cabinet, Ann Widdecombe and William Hague, who had stormed Brixton police station just before the last election, television crew in tow. Law and order was the name of the game then - and black youth in Brixton had to be stamped upon.

The then local police commander was furious. He'd trained his men out of the culture of aggression into a strict application of stop-and-search: no more of the random "stop any black youth" policy, but an intelligence-led targeting of the recalcitrant.

But Letwin came in peace. Lambeth is not as Labour-bound as many might think; the party has been eclipsed from an absolute domination of the local council for years now. So there is political mileage to be gained by the opposition. We need a foil against David Blunkett's absolute disregard for immigrants past and present.

Letwin struck a chord when he said of commentators and Tory and Labour politicians that "they think that the problems of inner cities are so vast as to be insoluble", and added that "they see the establishment of a neighbourly society in our inner cities as desirable but naive". It is this very neighbourliness of Brixtonians that has sustained our community through onslaught upon onslaught by the police and the brutal cuts in public spending.

Letwin's visit was marred only partially when one of those very commentators he referred to wrote that Brixton's economy is based largely on drugs. He is wrong. From 5am, streams of women make their way to government buildings in central London, there to clean. Later in the morning, others head for the local hospitals - King's, St Thomas's and Dulwich - to keep the NHS in shape. Brixtonians work from sunup to sundown on the buses, the Tube and on the railways. The local market flourishes. A vibrant high street is on the up: Tesco and Sainsbury, Morleys and Marks & Spencer. An array of small businesses increases by the day.

I am afraid the removal of Commander Brian Paddick last year struck a blow against progressive policing. The local police are back to nicking good folk for possessing cannabis. But Letwin struck a blow for the progressives. He must return; we will welcome the good fellow.