However, during the eighties the issue of immigration went off the boil. This was partly due to a media blackout on the numbers of third world immigrants still entering the country, despite the Tories’ supposedly 'firm but fair' immigration policies and, also, because other subjects such as trade union reform, unemployment, inflation, privatisation, crime, health and education received greater political media coverage. It was also a period when militant 'anti-racism' became more entrenched in local government, trade unions and higher education. The most celebrated trailblazer was Ken Livingstone’s GLC, whose 'rainbow' political machine diverted large amounts of taxpayers’ and ratepayers’ money into the pockets of favoured minority groups. It was a period when no inner city area was complete without its new 'community centre', for the dominant ethnic minority, and from which only the indigenous white population, who largely funded it, felt excluded.
During the summer of 1981 rioting involving mostly ethnic minorities occurred in several towns and cities, the most serious taking place in the Toxteth district of Liverpool and Brixton, South London. Lord Scarman, an eminent High Court judge, was asked by the government to investigate the causes of the Brixton riots. His subsequent report recommended the recruitment of more black police officers, better race awareness training and stressed the need for community policing. He also advised the government to end racial disadvantage and tackle the disproportionately high level of unemployment among young black men which stood at 60% in the area. More rioting was to take place later in the decade in Brixton , the Handsworth district of Birmingham and the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham where PC Keith Blakelock was hacked to death. Many commentators began to ask whether the fears of Enoch Powell were being realised.
The years of John Major’s premiership from 1990-1997 were a period when the issues of race and immigration virtually disappeared from mainstream media discussion, despite the large number of third world migrants still entering the country, and the huge increase in the number of asylum seekers. Political parties were happy to sign up to CRE gagging orders not to raise the subjects of race and immigration in elections, in effect keeping these issues outside the parameters of democratic political debate. Party colleagues boasted that Major 'did not have a single racist bone in his body', a clear signal of the Tories desire to parade their liberal credentials.
However, one event took place in this period that was to have a profound impact on racial policy, namely the killing of black teenager Steven Lawrence in Eltham, southwest London by a group of white youths. It would take three trials to obtain two convictions for his murder. At the time the murder attracted relatively little media attention but a determined campaign by the parents of the dead teenager resulted in their cause being taken up by black South African president, Nelson Mandela, on a visit to London. In addition, publicity generated by the trials, in particular the collapse of the second trial in which the defendants were acquitted, and a front page headline in the Daily Mail proclaiming the five main suspects to be guilty, resulted in the case becoming a cause célèbre. On return to Government in 1997 the Labour Home Secretary, Jack Straw, ordered an inquiry into the Lawrence murder to be chaired by a retired judge Sir William Macpherson