NO stranger himself to the anger of local residents, Nick Clegg this week warned senior Conservative Oliver Letwin to expect a hostile reception from Sheffield over his reported remarks about not wanting more of its families to be able to afford cheap holidays.
“I suggest to him that he probably wants to tread with care when he comes to visit a city that I love,” said the Deputy Prime Minister and Hallam Liberal Democrat MP.
“He has now, I think, overnight become the most controversial politician in Sheffield.”
Mr Letwin, Cabinet Office minster and a key policy advisor to David Cameron, did not deny having made the cheap flight jibe to London Mayor Boris Johnson.
And – to the fury of Sheffield MPs – he also failed to apologise. “I do not ever comment on things that are alleged to have been said in private conversations but I would never knowingly ever say anything offensive to anybody,” he said.
Even the Prime Minister was dragged into the row during a visit to Pakistan. Quizzed at a press conference in Islamabad, he said: “I normally find, if you look at the full quotation of what Oliver Letwin has said, it is often different to what was reported in the newspapers.
“And I haven’t looked at the full quotation but I expect when I do I will probably find I am right.”
In Sheffield, Lib Dem council leader Paul Scriven demanded a public apology. “Your comments are both deeply offensive and out of touch with ordinary hard working families in Sheffield,” he said in a letter to Mr Letwin. “If that is really your view, then I would invite you to visit our city so that you can explain who you are against more Sheffield families being able to afford to have a holiday.”
Angela Smith, Labour MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said: “Well now the cat’s out of the bag. We now know what this Tory-led Government really thinks about the good people of Sheffield. These remarks by a senior Government figure are completely inappropriate and unfair on the people of Sheffield.
“Just why does this Government think it is wrong that people from Sheffield take a well-earned holiday, or do they think only multi-millionaires such as Mr Letwin should take holidays?”
Sheffield Central Labour MP Paul Blomfield said: “The remarks reveal the mindset of a Government which is developing policies that are creating a two-tier society, in which the best is reserved for those who have most, and which unfairly discriminate against people in Sheffield and the north of England.”
The storm erupted after Boris Johnson said: “I was absolutely scandalised the other day to hear a Government minister tell me he did not want to see more families in Sheffield able to afford cheap holidays.
“Absolutely disgraceful, a bourgeois repression of people’s ability to take a holiday. It’s a matter of social justice.”
The Mayor did not name the minister but it has since been widely reported to be Mr Letwin, a former merchant banker who was educated at Eton and Cambridge.