Stockton MP rejects Cleverly’s claim that insult referred to him, not his town | James Cleverly #Stockton #rejects #Cleverlys #claim #insult #referred #town #James #Cleverly

James Cleverly is coming under pressure over abusive comments he made in the Commons after his explanation that he was insulting the local MP, not calling a Labour-held constituency a “shit-hole”, was met with scepticism.

After Ben Houchen, the Conservative mayor for Tees Valley, condemned what he called Cleverly’s “childish and unprofessional language”, the Labour MP concerned, Alex Cunningham, said he simply did not believe the home secretary.

The alleged comment came during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday after Cunningham, who represents Stockton North, asked Rishi Sunak: “Why are 34% of children in my constituency living in poverty?”

In a subsequent point of order in the chamber, Cunningham said of Cleverly: “He was seen and heard to say: ‘Because it’s a shit-hole.’” Muffled audio recordings seemed to back this up.

At the time, a spokesperson for Cleverly said: “He did not say that, and would not. He’s disappointed people would accuse him of doing so.”

On Thursday, a source close to Cleverly gave another version of what happened: “James made a comment. He called Alex Cunningham a shit MP. He apologises for unparliamentary language. As was made clear yesterday, he would never criticise Stockton. He’s campaigned in Stockton and is clear that it is a great place.”

Cunningham told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that the explanation was not credible. “I simply don’t believe him,” he said. “We had the chairman of the Conservative party on the radio earlier today denying that the word was even said anywhere in the Commons. You simply can’t believe what they’re saying.

“He did say what I said he said, people saw him say that, and I’m still content that he needs to come to the House of Commons, stand at the dispatch box and apologise to the people of Stockton.”

Downing Street insisted Sunak retained confidence in Cleverly, although could not say whether the prime minister accepted the explanation.

MP accuses home secretary of calling Stockton a ‘shit-hole’ during PMQs – video

Shortly before the amended explanation emerged, Houchen said in a tweet: “I’m not interested in excuses and I will always put our area above party politics, and it is clear to me that the home secretary should apologise for dragging Stockton’s name through the mud.

“Having made huge progress in recent years with major investment, thousands of jobs and Teesside forging a brighter future in the industries of the future including a new era of steelmaking, this type of language only furthers the outdated and inaccurate stereotypes we’ve battled for years.

“We’re a wonderful place and a passionate and proud community, and people across the world are looking at the exciting future that is emerging before us – but childish and unprofessional language used by Westminster politicians, who should know better, does nothing to help our plans for progress.”

In a later tweet, Houchen said he was pleased Cleverly had apologised, adding: “Whatever was said, the speculation dragged Stockton’s name through the mud, which is unacceptable. We’re all human and he’s a good guy who made a mistake.”

Earlier on Thursday, the issue had been raised again by Labour in the Commons, with Lucy Powell, the shadow leader of the House of Commons, saying: “Besmirching another honourable member’s constituency goes against all the courtesies of this place and it is utterly disrespectful to their constituents.”

The leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt, replied: “With regard to the charge she makes against the home secretary, he denies it and I believe him.”

#Stockton #rejects #Cleverlys #claim #insult #referred #town #James #Cleverly

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