Words by Ed King
Erdington Ward councillor Robert Alden, and leader of the Birmingham Conservatives, has hit back at comments recently made by Heather Wheeler MP who referred to Birmingham and Blackpool as “…godawful.”
Sparking widespread outrage across Birmingham, and a slew of social media comments with pictures celebrating the beauty and rich culture to be found across the city, Mrs Wheeler’s off the cuff remark upset two entire cities and angered tens of thousands more across the UK.
In an open letter to his Conservative Party colleague, Cllr Alden challenged the ‘all too common prejudicial view of our city’ whilst citing ‘the birthplace of the industrial revolution’ as the ‘engine room of the UK economy.’
Cllr Alden went on to celebrate Birmingham’s ‘big heart’, and how it is a ‘safe haven… for those facing religious persecution’ – as represented by the City of Sanctuary status Birmingham has held since 2015.
He continued to cite Birmingham’s ‘culture of philanthropy’, ‘industrial heritage’, and ‘more Michelin restaurant than anywhere else in the country outside London’ – even offering to show Mrs Wheeler around his proud home city when she visits for the Conservative Party conference.
Birmingham has been the host of the Conservative Party Conference for many years, with the next all-party event planned for October 2022.
Member of Parliament for South Derbyshire, and both a Cabinet Office Parliamentary Secretary Assistant Government Whip, Mrs Wheeler made the remark during the launch of the Government’s new digital strategy on Thursday 9 June.
Mrs Wheeler MP was reported as saying: “I was just at a conference in Blackpool or Birmingham or somewhere godawful.”
Apologising for her remarks the following day, Mrs Wheeler MP posted on Twitter she had “…made an inappropriate remark that does not reflect [her] actual view”.
But the derisive comment had already been picked up by mainstream media, sparking ager and defence from politicians and public alike – with many taking to social media to visually and verbally challenge the comments.
Erdington neighbour and Yardley MP Jess Phillips was quick to respond, stating that whilst she understands: “people make off the cuff remarks regrettably all the time” it is the “implied snobbery that’s the problem.”
Phillips continued to recognise that whilst “it’s ok not to like everywhere. It’s not ok to look down on them in a sneering way” – before challenging Mrs Wheeler’s perceived “patriotism” as needing to be “much more than singing Jerusalem and waving flags” and “finding the joy from the people and the grit as well as the scenery in our country.”
Also appearing on social media, a post of Heather Wheeler MP contributing to Parliament via a digital platform in 2020, amidst social distancing restrictions, seems to show the South Derbyshire MP use inappropriate language whilst addressing the House.
Tory MP Heather Wheeler appears to utter, "oh f*****g hell", during virtual contribution in Parliament. pic.twitter.com/IgN84yUAYM
— Lewis McKenzie (@LewisMcKenzie94) May 11, 2020