Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

UK Politics

Row after minister's 'cheap holidays' remark

Ministers were accused of double standards today after policy chief Oliver Letwin apparently said the Government did not want more ordinary people taking cheap holidays abroad.

The millionaire Cabinet Office minister apparently made the remark in a private conversation with London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Mr Letwin, who has a key role co-ordinating coalition policy across the Government, reportedly told the Mayor he did not want "more families in Sheffield able to afford cheap holidays".

Mr Johnson, a fellow Tory, criticised the stance 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 Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, MP for Sheffield Hallam, in the Commons tomorrow.

"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 pace 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 have emerged that it was Mr Letwin who made the comment.

A spokeswoman for Mr Letwin said today: "We are not commenting on it at all."

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "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."