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Heather Wheeler said: "I was just at a conference in Blackpool or Birmingham – somewhere godawful.” (Photo: Jack Thomas via Getty Images)
A Conservative minister has apologised after saying Blackpool and Birmingham are “godawful”, remarks that potentially undermine the government’s plan to end regional economic inequality.
Heather Wheeler, a junior Cabinet Office minister, was speaking at an event in London to launch the party’s new digital strategy.
She told the audience before making her official speech: “I was just at a conference in Blackpool or Birmingham – somewhere godawful.”
The remarks were first reported by Chris Middleton of Diginomica.
#Digital minister #HeatherWheeler has just said at the launch of the #government’s new #digital#strategy “I was just at a conference in Blackpool or Birmingham or somewhere godawful”. Staggering #DDaT22#digitalroadmap#uk#publicsector
— Chris Middleton (@strategistmag) June 9, 2022
He wrote: “I mentioned this spectacular own goal on Twitter yesterday. Minutes later, my phone rang and someone from the Cabinet Office explained, in measured tones, that Wheeler’s unscripted comment had been meant as a joke to break the ice and establish rapport with her audience… hardly worth mentioning, in fact (hint hint).”
On Friday, Wheeler issued an apology. She wrote on Twitter: “Whilst speaking at a conference on Thursday, I made an inappropriate remark that does not reflect my actual view. I apologise for any offence caused.”
Whilst speaking at a conference on Thursday, I made an inappropriate remark that does not reflect my actual view. I apologise for any offence caused.
— Heather Wheeler MP (@HeatherWheeler) June 10, 2022
It raises further questions about the government’s commitment to boosting the economy outside of the capital, the UK’s powerhouse.
Earlier this week, a group of cross-party MPs accused ministers of squandering billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on ill-thought-out “levelling up” plans.
Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Affairs Committee, said the government was “gambling taxpayers’ money on policies” which are “little more than a slogan”.
Wheeler’s comments prompted an immediate backlash.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “The mask has slipped.
“This minister has blurted out what Boris Johnson’s Conservatives really think about our communities behind closed doors.
“The disrespect is off the scale. Heather Wheeler has put her utter contempt for voters on show.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.