UK Politics

Austin Mitchell dismisses 'no chance' of Grimsby loss remarks

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Media captionMitchell: "It's not phrased as I would have said it. I never talk of 'sex paedophiles'"

Labour's retiring Great Grimsby MP, Austin Mitchell, has dismissed claims he said the party could retain the seat at the election even if its candidate was an "alcoholic" or "paedophile".

Mr Mitchell, who is to vacate his seat in May, was quoted making the comment in an Independent on Sunday interview.

But he told the BBC: "If that was said, it was as a joke and I'm not sure I would have phrased it like that."

He rejected the notion that he had shown a lack of respect to voters.

"It was a journalist trick of trying to create a row where none exists", he said.

Labour's shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said he did not agree with Mr Mitchell's reported comments.

Meanwhile, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said it was a "massive shot in the arm" for his party, which is mounting a challenge for the seat at May's general election.

Grimsby has been held by Labour since 1945, with Mr Mitchell representing the constituency since 1977.

'First rate candidate'

The Independent on Sunday reported that Mr Mitchell had said Labour would hold on to the seat in May even if its candidate was a "raving alcoholic sex paedophile".

Pressed to say if the comments were accurate, Mr Mitchell said: "If I did say it - and I can't remember saying it, it's not phrased as I would have said it because I don't talk of sex paedophiles, that would be a curious way for phrasing it - then it's contrary to what I was saying to the reporter."

He said he had been trying to make the point that many people are disgruntled with the two-party political system, and Labour needs to work hard to win them back.

"Now that's respect for the electorate, not contempt, it's ridiculous to argue that," he added.

Image caption Labour will defend a majority of 714 in Great Grimsby in May's general election.

The outgoing MP endorsed the Labour candidate, Melanie Onn, who will contest the seat at the election, describing her as a "first rate candidate".

And he repeated his assertion that UKIP would not win in Grimsby in May, insisting Labour would hold on to the seat.

At the last election Mr Mitchell won with a majority of 714 over Conservative candidate Victoria Ayling - who will fight the constituency for UKIP in 2015.

Many commentators have identified the seat as one of UKIP's key targets in the north of England.

The party has polled strongly in the area in recent local elections and in the 2014 European elections.

The BBC's Robin Brant said UKIP would use Mr Mitchell's comments to try to "batter" Labour in an area where the party was "increasingly confident" it could win.

He said Mr Mitchell was known for speaking "off the cuff", but added: "That sense of complacency, that sense of arrogance, is hugely damaging [to Labour]."

'Very cynical'

Commenting on the story, Mr Umunna said he did not think Mr Mitchell was trying to "sabotage" Ms Onn's campaign.

He insisted Labour did not take voters for granted, and added: "We're not seeking to insult anybody here."

UKIP leader Nigel Farage told the BBC: "I get the impression that Austin Mitchell is not happy with his replacement who he feels is somebody that represents the metropolitan elite and I think he's just given UKIP a massive shot in the arm."

He also said the remarks were "a very cynical comment" about Britain's electoral system, and predicted the general election would prompt a "serious debate" about electoral reform.

Mr Mitchell announced in 2014 that he would not be seeking re-election at the upcoming general election in May.

Last July, the MP had surgery to repair a leaky heart valve after fainting in the Houses of Parliament.

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