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UK Politics

Letwin warned by Clegg over Sheffield

Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin has been warned by Nick Clegg that he faces a hostile reception from the people of Sheffield over his apparent remarks about not wanting more families in the city to be able to afford cheap holidays.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who is MP for Sheffield Hallam, spoke out after Mr Letwin reportedly told London Mayor Boris Johnson that he did not want to see more families in Sheffield able to afford cheap holidays.

"I suggest to him that he probably wants to tread with care when he comes to visit a city that I love," Mr Clegg told Sky News.

"He has now, I think, overnight become the most controversial politician in Sheffield."

Asked if he believed Mr Letwin should say sorry, Mr Clegg said he did not want to give a "running commentary on comments on comments on comments".

Mr Letwin, who is a millionaire, failed today to deny having made the remarks he reportedly made in a private conversation with Mr Johnson.

Interviewed by Sky News, he also failed to apologise for the comments.

"I do not ever comment on things that are alleged to have been said in private conversations but I would never knowingly ever say anything offensive to anybody," he said.

He added that he was "passionately behind" the announcement by Mr Clegg on social mobility.

"We are passionately devoted to people being able to make the most of their own lives and being able to advance themselves and that is obviously what Nick Clegg is going to be saying today and I am passionately behind it," he said.

Mr Johnson, a fellow Tory, yesterday criticised Mr Letwin's alleged remarks as "absolutely disgraceful" and Labour MPs urged Mr Letwin, an Old Etonian, to apologise and withdraw the remark.

Denis MacShane, the Labour MP for Rotherham in South Yorkshire, wrote to Mr Letwin saying his remark was "profoundly offensive".

"This is pure snobbery that is unworthy of someone with your wealth and privileged upbringing," Mr MacShane wrote.

"It will confirm the view of many in South Yorkshire that this Cabinet has the same contempt for the region that Margaret Thatcher and John Major showed as they targeted South Yorkshire industries and the culture of the working people of the region in the 1980s and 1990s.

"Can I say these remarks are profoundly offensive to all the people of South Yorkshire who have as much right to enjoy a holiday as the millionaires in the Cabinet."

Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central, said he would try to raise the issue with Mr Clegg in the Commons.

"I'm demanding that David Cameron gets Oliver Letwin to apologise to the people of Sheffield who are as entitled to their foreign holidays as Oliver Letwin and his millionaire colleagues in the Cabinet," he said.

"They enjoy their holidays abroad but don't think ordinary people deserve them.

"It's absolutely double standards and it reflects on the thinking that perhaps explaining some of the policies they are putting in place which are going to hit the North."

Mr Johnson disclosed the remark but did not reveal who made it.

"I was absolutely scandalised the other day to hear a Government minister tell me he did not want to see more families in Sheffield able to afford cheap holidays," he said.

He said it was "absolutely disgraceful, a bourgeois repression of people's ability to take a holiday", adding: "It's a matter of social justice."

Reports emerged that it was Mr Letwin who made the comment.

The Liberal Democrat leader of Sheffield City Council, Paul Scriven, said he had written to Mr Letwin demanding an apology.

Mr Scriven said: "I was shocked to read these reports over the weekend. If the reports are accurate then Mr Letwin should apologise and take up my invitation to come up to Sheffield to explain himself. I won't sit by and see Sheffield people put down.

"As I point out in my letter, I am adamantly in favour of more hard-working families being able to improve their quality of life through things like holidays.

"I know from working with them that Liberal Democrat members of the Government agree, and I assume the rest of Government do too. That's why the coalition is implementing Lib Dem policies such as tax breaks for those on low incomes."

In his letter, Mr Scriven says: "Your comments are both deeply offensive and out of touch with ordinary hard-working families in Sheffield and the rest of the UK."

A Downing Street spokeswoman said yesterday: "The Prime Minister, of course, supports the idea of people going on holiday where they choose."

Asked if Mr Cameron thought his Cabinet colleague should apologise, she told reporters: "We do not know what those comments were.

"My understanding is they were made in a private capacity. But the principle is that people are free to go on holiday and it's a right people should have."