MP Sir Desmond Swayne has apologised after provoking outrage with his claim that the “poorest are amongst the fattest”.
He faced criticism from political opponents and also the chair of a Lymington-based food bank after making the controversial comments on his website.
But in a blog post published five days later, the Conservative member for New Forest West described his phrasing as a “rhetorical flourish” and said sorry for giving offence.
He also lamented the loss of support for disadvantaged families from Children’s Centres – which in 2016 were nearly all shut down in Hampshire by the Tory-run county council amid austerity cuts to government funding.
Under the title ‘A Retraction and a Restatement’, the Conservative MP said that after reflection he believed that “referring to the ‘fattest’ was insensitive, so I apologise to anyone to whom I gave offence.
“Furthermore, that statement is not a legitimate inference from the evidence I quoted: even when children from lower income backgrounds are over-represented in the figures for obesity, it is equally possible for the richest to be amongst the fattest.”
However, he said his broad conclusion “remains valid”, pointing to national statistical analysis by health thinktank the Nuffield Trust which said that obesity was more than twice as high in Year 6 children from the most deprived areas, compared to the least deprived.
As reported in the A&T, Sir Desmond made his original comments after the issue of food banks was raised repeatedly at hustings during December’s general election.
He also said that the poorest families needed help to shop more cost-effectively and healthily, in addition to welfare payments, and pointed to his party’s manifesto pledge to assist troubled families.
Referring to Children’s Centres, Sir Desmond said: “They were a welcome innovation and I regret that so many were closed as a consequence of the squeeze on local authority budgets. That was an inevitable consequence of the financial situation that the coalition government inherited.
“Now, as the financial situation improves, it is essential that Children Centres and Family Hubs feel the benefit. Accordingly, I hope that the manifesto commitment that I quoted is a statement of this intent, and I shall certainly campaign for it.”
As reported in the A&T, Sir Desmond’s first blog was described as “completely separated from reality” by Liberal Democrat Cllr Jack Davies, and of blaming the most vulnerable by Labour Ringwood town councillor John Haywood.
The chair of New Forest Basics Bank, Oliver Stanley, said that obesity is contributed to by low pay making it hard to buy fresh food, schools cutting sport classes, and lack of basic cooking lessons.
It is not the first time recently that Sir Desmond has caused controversy. In September last year he made national headlines after it emerged he had blacked-up years ago when he went to a fancy dress party as James Brown.
He refused to apologise – but later deleted a line from his website saying that the reason he would not do it again was because of how difficult it was take remove the make-up. In January last year he also fell asleep in the Commons during a Brexit debate.
In the December general election he increased his majority in New Forest West to just over 24,400 votes.
What do you think? Write to the Advertiser and Times via firstname.lastname@example.org.