Labour seizes on Hanley gaffe

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The Independent Online
JEREMY HANLEY, the Conservative Party chairman, was yesterday forced into an embarrassing retraction after describing crowd violence at Nigel Benn's world championship bout on Saturday as 'exuberance'.

The remark was seized on by Labour, coming just two days after the Prime Minister's pledge of a campaign against 'yob culture'. In the same interview, Mr Hanley also surprised Tory MPs by saying Mr Major would face 'no serious challenge' this autumn.

Interviewed on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost yesterday, he described scenes at the boxing bout in which chairs were hurled as fans punched and kicked one another as 'just exuberance'. Alun Michael, Labour's home affairs spokesman, said that was 'an extraordinary comment'.

Conservative Central Office later issued a statement saying Mr Hanley 'very much regrets' the impression given 'that any violence in sport could be regarded as exuberance'. He had not seen the news bulletin before his interview. 'As soon as he saw the whole film he recognised that it was anything but exuberant behaviour.'

In an interview last night with Sky News Mr Hanley said of his remark: 'Yes, it queries my competence.'

Mr Hanley said his 'inexperience' had led him to comment without having seen the television film of the event. 'As soon as I saw the film I was absolutely horrified because it was exactly the sort of yobbish behaviour - indeed worse than that - that John Major was describing and condemning.

'I was caught on the hop. I am new in this game, I have only been in the job a few weeks and I am certainly learning to make sure that I have seen the news completely before I go on any television programme.'

The Labour Party chairman, David Blunkett, said: 'Mr Hanley's admission of his mistake and inexperience amply demonstrates John Major's mistake and continuing ineptitude in having appointed him to such a senior position in the Conservative Party.'

The British Boxing Board of Control said yesterday there would be an inquiry into the disturbances at the fight. Seven people were injured after trouble erupted as Benn fought the Paraguayan Juan Carlos Gimenez in Birmingham.

Leading article, page 13

James Fenton, page 14

Ken Jones, page 29