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Tory minister who branded Blackpool and Birmingham godawful faces backlash

Kwasi Kwarteng grilled on damning 'levelling up' poll

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Heather Wheeler, a junior Cabinet Office Minister, was preparing to give a speech at an event in London when she made the remarks. The remarks come following a report from the Public Accounts Committee which said the Government’s levelling up policy amounted to “little more than a slogan”.

Ms Wheeler said: “I was at a conference at, I don’t know, Blackpool or Birmingham, somewhere godawful.”

Labour wasted no time to pounce on the remarks with the Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy saying that the comments showed the Conservative’s “true colours”.

She said: “This comment reveals the Conservatives’ true colours.

“It’s no wonder the Tories are failing so miserably to level up our great towns and cities if this is what they truly think.”

Ms Wheeler apologised for her remarks in a Tweet, and said that the comments did not reflect her views.

She said: “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.”

Ms Wheeler is no stranger to somewhat embarrassing faux pas. In 2020, she used the f-word while giving a virtual address to the House of Commons, not realising her microphone was still live.

Her recent comments drew the ire of the Leader of Blackpool Council Lynn Williams who told BBC’s Radio 4 that the city was used to “ignorant and ill-advised comments”.

She said: “We know we’ve got a lot of social inequalities to deal with and we’re actually meant to be working with the government to deal with those as part of the levelling up programme so, yeah, it’s just frustrating.”

Ms Wheeler’s South Derbyshire constituency is less than 40 miles from Birmingham.

The news comes as a recent report from the Public Accounts Committee, a cross-party select committee in the House of Commons, said that the Government had “gambled” billions of pounds of taxpayer’s money on levelling up initiatives that were “little more than a slogan”.

The Government says that levelling up is necessary to bring the most deprived areas of the country in-line with the rest of the UK.

The scheme aims to bring public transport across the UK in-line with London transport, provide the majority of the country with access to 5G broadband and eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy from Britain’s primary schools by 2030 among other initiatives.

However, some MPs have warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he could lose support from Red Wall Tory MPs if he does not make good on his levelling up plans.

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Jake Berry, the chair of the Northern Research Group and MP for Rossendale and Darwen, told The Daily Telegraph that the Tories needed to show people that they had a “serious long term plan” for levelling up and claimed that the Prime Minister had a “fresh start” after surviving a vote of no confidence in the House.

He said: “Both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, however it’s come about, have the opportunity for a fresh start. This week northern colleagues were hugely in support of the prime minister, with very, very few of the 80 against him.”

He added: “We’ve got to sell to the people of this country that we have a serious long term plan to change their economic prospects.

“And if we can do that, I firmly believe that people will absolutely back us again. I’m sorry, incremental government, a little tweak here and a little tweak there, just simply isn’t going to cut it. The people voted for Boris because he was different.”

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