One of Parliament’s longest serving MPs has dismissed reports that Labour could win his seat even if its candidate was an “alcoholic sex paedophile”.
Veteran MP Austin Mitchell has represented the Labour stronghold of Great Grimsby since 1977 but will step down before the May election. However, he expects Labour, which has held the seat since 1945, to retain it no matter what.
He told The Independent on Sunday: “There is no chance we’ll lose Grimsby, even if we selected a raving alcoholic sex paedophile we wouldn’t lose Grimsby.”
But the Lincolnshire MP has since retracted the comments on twitter, dismissing them as “making summation of nowt”.
He told the BBC: "If that was said, it was as a joke and I'm not sure I would have phrased it like that."
He claims they were a response to an attack on prospective parliamentary candidate Melanie Onn, who will be fighting the election in his place, a battle many expect to be between Labour and Ukip.
But Mitchell, also on twitter, said that “Grimsby is loyal, Labour and Great”, despite the fact that UKIP have won council seats in local elections.
He told the Independent on Sunday: “I don’t think there is a problem in Grimsby. There will certainly be a rise in the Ukip vote now that they have a councillor and did quite well in the European elections. But when it comes down to it their vote isn’t concentrated enough to win any seats.”
Mr Mitchell’s parting shot from the constituency was quickly seized upon by the Ukip candidate Victoria Ayling, who came within 714 votes of defeating Mr Mitchell in 2010 when she stood as a Conservative candidate before her defection to Ukip.
She said: “It’s insulting to the great people of Great Grimsby. And it’s exactly the sort of ‘take them for granted’ attitude that is turning people away from the establishment parties. Austin Mitchell has been a respected constituency MP but he’s assuming that people don’t think very carefully about how they vote. People do think very carefully and I don’t like Mr Mitchell insulting the people of Grimsby.”
Labour’s candidate for the seat, Melanie Onn, was clearly exasperated by her party colleague’s intervention, describing them as “awful”.
The seat is seen by many as a key indicator of whether Ukip can take voters off Labour in the north of England, though the area has seen little immigration and the last census put the population as 96 per cent white British. However the latest Core Cities report shows the town is a youth employment black spot and suffering from stagnating population growth.Reuse content