Swire’s benefits gag is no joke to election rivals

Hugo Swire stock picture

Hugo Swire stock picture - Credit: Archant

Hugo Swire’s election rivals have called on him to apologise after he was secretly filmed joking about welfare claimants at a Tory fundraiser.

The East Devon MP made the comments at the Conservative ‘black and white’ fundraising ball last month, which raised millions for their election campaign.

The footage was part of a Channel 4 Dispatches ‘sting’ into election funding screened on Monday.

Before a wealthy audience, Mr Swire, a former Sotheby’s director, led an auction at the Grosvenor House hotel in Mayfair.

Mr Swire was trying to persuade wealthy donors to bid more, and at one point said: “£60,000 … Ian, persuade him … He’s not on benefits is he? Well if he is, then he can afford it … £55,000?”

Mr Swire told the Journal this week: “This was an off-the-cuff dig to raise money for the party. It was not an attack on the welfare state.”

East Devon’s Labour candidate, Steve Race, said: “These comments show just how out of touch he, and this government, is. I’ve been to a food bank, one of three operating in East Devon, and I know that poverty is no laughing matter.

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“Ordinary people talk to me about the struggles they have to pay the bills.

“We need real solutions not these callous comments from an MP who thinks poverty is worthy of a cheap joke at a fundraiser with his millionaire pals. I hope Hugo Swire does the decent thing and issues a public apology.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Stuart Mole said: “I was appalled by the sight of a wealthy Conservative minister mocking people on benefits at an exclusive Mayfair ball.

“He insults some of his most vulnerable constituents and shows the disconnect between some politicians and the people they seek to represent. I think he should apologise.”

Independent candidate Claire Wright said: “What is funny about people who face a daily battle trying to survive on benefits?

“It is not funny for those who struggle to scrape together the funds in an attempt to make ends meet.

“It shows him in a poor and callous light. His comments reflect a worrying lack of compassion that characterises this government. Mr Swire should apologise for his crass remarks.”

UKIP candidate Andrew Chapman said the comments were in ‘extremely poor taste’.

He added: “Mr Swire’s joke, albeit in private company, shows just how little people in the ‘Westminster bubble’ understand about the realities of life in the UK.”