Wigan’s MP fires back at speech trouncing the town

Wigan’s MP has hit back at “bizarre” criticism of her town by a former BBC Newsnight presenter and journalist after an old clip resurfaced on social media.

Paul Mason, born in Leigh, described Wigan as having “dead streets” and “no vibrant retail” in comments made at a conference in September 2021.

Mr Mason, who is hoping to be Labour’s next candidate for Sheffield Central, said that MP Lisa Nandy “tries to put a great face on it” but it would be a place where students would not want to go. He said this was because there are no black people or migrants in the town.

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“When you get off the train in Wigan the streets are dead and the only drinking places are standing places and the only people drinking are young men,” he said in the clip shared on Twitter by political writer Aaron Bastani on November 7.

Lisa Nandy
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“It is almost like going to a men’s club until a later time when the women come out. It is a very traditional society and there is no vibrant retail and Lisa [Nandy] tries to put a great face on it, always MPs talk about the best of their communities.

“There are no students. If you move the students’ department there from say Salford, and they wouldn’t want to go. That is because there are no black people or migrants.”

The former Channel 4 News economics editor is one of many – including comedian Eddie Izzard – hoping to become Labour’s next candidate to replace Paul Blomfield, who is stepping down after 12 years as an MP in Sheffield. However, these controversial comments have sparked a reaction from his fellow Labour member for Ms Nandy.

Leigh-born Paul Mason

“This is utterly bizarre,” the shadow secretary of state for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said. “We have a diverse community, thousands of students who come to study at three of the best colleges in the country, and I can personally vouch for the fact that there are women drinking in our pubs.

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“We’ve had to put up with 12 years of Tory Governments attacking us. We could do without comments that talk us down, especially when they’re this off the charts.”

Mr Mason explained that these comments were made in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic. He said that some of them were ‘in the heat of the moment’.

“These remarks were made in September 2021 as we were still suffering the aftermath of lockdown – as part of a frank discussion with politicians about what decades of neglect have done to the town I grew up in and love,” Mr Mason said, reflecting on the comment. “I was making a comparison between Camden, where retail and demographics all boost growth – and the ex-industrial North where everything seems stacked against us.

A busy Wigan town centre
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“I want Labour to deliver the same kind of jobs, growth, investment and thriving retail sectors you get in a place like Camden to places like Wigan. Obviously in the heat of the moment I overstated some of the problems but I was fuming at the hypocrisy of ministers who pretend everything is rosy because of a few million in Levelling Up Money.

“Unless we confront the vast inequalities between life in ex-industrial communities and life In the privileged south, we won’t win the argument for investment in jobs, skills and infrastructure. Unlike the person who posted this clip, edited out of context, I know and love the community I come from – and I desperately want to see it get back to the prosperity we once enjoyed.

“That means redistributing both wealth and power to towns like Wigan and Leigh. As a journalist my job is to listen to people’s grievances and give them voice.

“I apologise if in the heat of the moment I put things too starkly but my job is to make people aware of the severe poverty, exclusion and social stress our communities are suffering from. In the battle for social justice, saying “everything’s fine” is not an option”.