Backlash after Tory minister says Blackpool and Birmingham are 'godawful'

Tory MP Heather Wheeler reportedly suggested Birmingham and Blackpool were "godawful" places. (Getty Images)

A government minister has been accused of showing "contempt for voters" after saying that Birmingham and Blackpool are "godawful" places.

Heather Wheeler, the MP for South Derbyshire, is the parliamentary secretary in the Cabinet Office, and also holds the post of assistant government whip.

The apparent slip on Tuesday came at the launch - in London - of an initiative to upgrade digital civil services to help the government focus on "the public's priorities".

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Wheeler's comments were initially reported by freelance journalist and author Chris Middleton, who tuned into the event.

He told Yahoo News UK that he heard Wheeler, who was brought up in Wandsworth, south-west London, appear to go "off script" in her comments and say about the two cities: “I was just at a conference in Blackpool or Birmingham - somewhere godawful."

Yahoo News UK has contacted the Cabinet Office, which has declined to comment.

However, after publication, Wheeler issued an apology on Twitter.

Government minister Heather Wheeler has apologised for her remarks about Birmingham and Blackpool on Twitter. (@heatherwheeler/Twitter)

"Whilst speaking at a conference on Thursday, I made an inappropriate remark that does not reflect my actual view," the minister said.

"I apologise for any offence caused."

The timing of Wheeler's comments is particularly unfortunate as it coincided with the prime minister's visit to Blackpool, where he was delivering a speech on housing and the cost-of-living crisis.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his speech at Blackpool and The Fylde College in Blackpool, Lancashire where he announced new measures to potentially help millions onto the property ladder. Picture date: Thursday June 9, 2022.
Boris Johnson delivered a speech at Blackpool and The Fylde College in Blackpool on Thursday where he made new announcements on housing. (PA) (PA)

"Blackpool is the second biggest destination for tourists outside London in the UK," said Johnson on Thursday during his visit.

"It’s massive, we think it’s got great potential.”

At the last election, the government pledged to "level up" parts of the country - with a focus on areas like North West and the West Midlands, which have historically received less investment that other regions.

Wheeler's remarks also come ahead of the Conservative party conference this year, which is due to be held in Birmingham. The city will also host the Commonwealth Games.

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Labour said Wheeler's comments show "contempt" and "disrespect" for voters.

"Heather Wheeler is causing embarrassment because she’s blurted out what Boris Johnson’s Conservatives really think about our communities behind closed doors," deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner told Yahoo News UK.

"The mask has well and truly slipped and she has put her utter contempt for voters on show.

"The level of disrespect is off the scale. It’s frankly embarrassing that she is still in her position as a minister.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) with the Commonwealth Games Mascot, Perry The Bull on the training track during a visit to a stadium in Birmingham. Picture date: Thursday May 12, 2022.
Boris Johnson visited Birmingham in May ahead of the city's hosting of the Commonwealth Games. (PA) (PA)

It is not the first time Wheeler has been been criticised for using controversial language.

In October 2017 the minister said rough sleepers in her constituency were "traditional type, old tinkers, knife-cutters wandering through”. She was appointed minister for homelessness in 2018.

Her comments garnered condemnation from Big Issue chief executive, Stephen Robertson, who called for her resignation. Wheeler subsequently apologised, describing her language as "inappropriate".

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Wheeler has been a strong supporter of the prime minister amid the civil war that has broken out in the Conservative Party over his leadership.

"It’s a great pity that at a time when the country is facing cost of living issues and a war in Eastern Europe, colleagues wish to engage in Conservative navel-gazing," Wheeler tweeted on Monday.

"A leadership election would take months, and I believe it is right that the Prime Minister focuses on dealing with the issues that matter to our constituents.

"He has my full support in doing so."

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