Anger at Tory MP Heather Wheeler's 'godawful place' remarks about Blackpool - how does our resort compare to her South Derbyshire constituency?

Conservative MP Heather Wheeler certainly raised hackles among tourism chiefs as well as opposition politicians whene she referred to Blackpool as a ‘godawful” place in a speech on the very same day Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the resort.

By Tony Durkin
Saturday, 11th June 2022, 12:26 pm
Updated Saturday, 11th June 2022, 2:20 pm

Ms Wheeler, who represents South Derbyshire, is also reported to have also referred to Birmingham, soon to host the Commonwealth Games, in the same terms but later apologised to both areas, saying she made an “inappropriate remark that does not reflect my actual view”.

The leader of Blackpool Council suggested Ms Wheeler may need to “come and have a look round” herself.

Labour councillor Lynn Williams described Ms Wheeler’s reported remarks as “frustrating”, but said: “We’re used to getting (these) sort of ignorant and ill-advised comments.”

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Tory MP apologises for calling Blackpool a "godawful" place

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It makes me quite cross that, you know, particularly in this instance we held the Tory spring conference back in March of this year, which was incredibly successful, at our state-of-the art conference centre.

“Blackpool’s seen the biggest increase in footfall for the last two years. We’re doing something right, people love Blackpool. Maybe she needs to come and have a look round and enjoy the world-famous illuminations on our beautiful promenade.

“We know we’ve got a lot of social inequalities to deal with and we’re actually meant to be working with the Government to deal with those as part of the levelling up programme so, yeah, it’s just frustrating.

Claire Smith - "such remarks are very unhelpful"

“But we carry on regardless. We’ll continue to invest in our town and our people.”

Asked if Ms Wheeler’s apology – in which she said her remark did not reflect her “actual view” – was sufficient, Coun Williams said: “I mean, you said it, you thought it.

“Even sort of putting Blackpool and Birmingham as being the topic of the joke. I just … nothing surprises me.

“I think it’s more evidence of what the true thoughts are, really.”

Blackpool Council leader Lynn Williams has condemned the remarks

Claire Smith, president of Stay Blackpool, described Mrs Wheeler’s remarks as “a real kick in the teeth”.

"She really should known better than to come out with remarks like that about anywhere,” said Claire.

"It really unhelpful to hear such ill-thought-through comments which are a real kick in the teeth for the people who work so hard to make Blackpool such an attractive destination for so many people and who live here and love the town.

"The feedback from the politicians who attended the spring conference here was overwhelmingly positive and the hope is they will return. The satisfaction rate among visitors generally is very high indeed.

Heather Wheeler MP has apologised for the remarks

"But attending a conference is very different to just enjoying a break here with family. Just come and have fun and see all the great things Blackpool has to offer.

"It is good she has apologised but such insulting remarks should never have been said in the first place. People remember them and then it is up to us to have to handle the damage limitation.”

So how does Ms Wheeler’s constituency, sitting between English brewing capital Burton on Trent and East Midlands Airport, compare with our resort which has attracted visitors galore for decades?

The South Derbyshire constituency consists of rural and semi-rural settlements, including Repton, with its famous public school, in which a majority of voters have, in local elections since the Second World War, been Tory-voting, plus more historically industrial, and manufacturing-focussed settlements such as Swadlincote where the electorate has been for the most part Labour-voting.

Repton School, founded in the 16th century, was male-only until the 1970s and its notable alumni include author Roald Dahl, cricket CB Fry and Michael Ramsey, who went on to be Archbishop of Canterbury.

Swadlincote is a former mining town which appears to contrast quote sharply with Repton’s ‘dreaming spires’.

The former mining town of Swadlincote is part of Ms Wheeler's South Derbyshire constituency

A blog entry on the student site The Tab by a young Swadlincote resident says: “Derbyshire is quite a beautiful place, I have to admit. There’s a lot of fields, woodland areas, scenic views and not forgetting the Peak District. It’s just the one area, surrounded by pretty villages, that shall we say throws in a bit of an urban twist into this country life county. This is of course Swadlincote.

“I have lived here for most of my life, and I have to say I didn’t take much of a shine to it before I left for university. Swadlincote is made up of council estates which are littered with beer cans and used nappies and there’s always that faint smell of weed and urine. The whole town just has a constantly depressing vibe.”

Musician Joe Jackson lived in Swadlincote for the first year of his life.

Blackpool attracts millions of visitors to its seven miles of beaches, annual Illuminations, wealth of music and theatre venues, and world-famous attractions such as the Pleasure Beach and Tower, with its glittering ballroom.

It has twice hosted the Royal Variety Performance, attended by The Queen, welcomed stars from all over the world to switch on the Illuminations and its new £30m Winter Gardens conference centre hosted the Conservative Party’s spring conference this year, with hopes that the main party conferences can return to the resort soon.

Musicians such as Graham Nash and Robert Smith hail from the resort, along with actors including David Thewlis, John Forsythe and Ricky Tomlinson and it has been the location for countless films and TV shows, attracting directors such as Tim Burton.