Howard sacks MP for 'deplorable' cocklers joke

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The Tory MP Ann Winterton was sacked from the Parliamentary Conservative Party today after publicly joking about the deaths of the Chinese cocklers who drowned at Morecambe Bay.

Party leader Michael Howard said he was withdrawing the Conservative whip from the MP for Congleton, Cheshire, after she refused to apologise and withdraw her comments, understood to have been made during an after-dinner speech.

Just weeks after 20 Chinese cocklers died after getting caught in the tide in Bolton-le-Sands, Mrs Winterton reportedly referred to two sharks who were sick of eating tuna and so one said: "Let's go to Morecambe for a Chinese."

It is the second time that the 63-year-old right-winger has found herself in trouble over her attempts at humour.

Two years ago she was sacked as shadow rural affairs minister by then leader Iain Duncan Smith after she joked about Asians being "10 a penny" during a speech at a rugby club dinner in her constituency.

Mr Howard said in a statement: "Ann Winterton's remarks about the tragic deaths in Morecambe Bay were completely unacceptable. Such sentiments have no place in the Conservative Party.

"I deplore them and I apologise for them on behalf of my party.

"As a result of her refusal to withdraw and apologise for them, the Conservative whip has been withdrawn from Ann Winterton."

According to the Daily Mirror, Mrs Winterton made her remarks on Tuesday at a Whitehall dinner to improve Anglo-Danish relations, attended by MPs and industry figures.

The speed of Mr Howard's decision to withdraw the whip reflects the determination of the Tory leader that the party should not be affected by any taint of racism.

Last week he used a speech in Burnley, the scene of race riots in 2001, to denounce the far right British National Party which has seven council seats in the town.

Labour MP Nick Palmer, who was at the dinner, told the Mirror: "She needs to apologise. It seems to me most people may tell a joke privately which they wouldn't want broadcast.

"But when people have died in such a horrible way, it seems awful to joke about it."

Lord Taylor of Warwick, a black Tory peer, said he was shocked by the Mrs Winterton's comments.

He said: "Michael Howard was quite right to take quick and decisive action on sacking Ann Winterton.

"She simply does not learn from past mistakes. This is the second time she has made a racist, sensitive and totally unfunny remark.

"She's a well-educated woman, but with no common sense. I do not think she is fit to be a Member of Parliament."

Mrs Winterton, who was educated at Erdington Grammar School for Girls, is known as a right-winger who has campaigned against abortion and for the return of the death penalty.

She is married to fellow Tory MP Sir Nicholas Winterton who represents Macclesfield and has two sons, Robert and Andrew, a daughter, Sarah, and seven grandchildren.

During her political career, she has assisted the Speaker of the House of Commons as a member of the Speaker's Panel of Chairmen, and served for many years on the Agricultural Select Committee.

She has taken a particular interest in agriculture, education, healthcare, law and order and housing and homelessness, and is chairman of the all-party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group.

She is a vice president of the Townswomen's Guilds, plays an active role in local voluntary organisations and charities and was named Cheshire Life Woman of the Year for 1997.

In March 1998, Mrs Winterton was appointed as the Conservative spokesman on drugs.

Comments