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From Weetabix to the death penalty: Tory deputy chair Lee Anderson's controversial comments

Lee Anderson has been in the job just days and he's already called for the death penalty to be brought back. Sadly, he's got form when it comes to making divisive comments

Lee Anderson, the new deputy chair of the Conservative Party, has quite the track record. Image: Parliament

With a general election taking shape on the horizon, Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet reshuffle has been seen widely as an attempt to shore up the defences, rally the troops and prepare his party for electoral battle. Enter: Lee Anderson.

The latest polls predict Labour will win 509 of the 650 seats available in parliament and the Tories to end up with fewer seats than the SNP, so appointing the former Labour councillor to deputy chair of the party is the sound of the Tory election machine clicking into gear. 

The role is traditionally central to election campaigns and spreading party messages on the doorstep. So it makes sense, on paper at least, for a man like Anderson to reinforce the gains made in Red Wall seats before the whole thing collapses and crushes the party into oblivion. Conservative insiders are apparently undeterred by any recent lessons in judgement of character having elected Liz Truss as leader, only for her to immediately tank the economy with an uncosted and ideologically-driven policy plan which made her the UK’s shortest-serving prime minister ever.

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Anderson, Conservative MP for Ashfield and 1957, has taken to the role with gusto, unabashed at playing the plain-talking man of the people fronting for a Cabinet of millionaires. They wouldn’t let him anywhere near actual government though, of course, it’s not a ministerial role, but barely two days into his new position he’s already making headlines.

Here’s a recap of the greatest hits for a man social media has taken to calling 30p Lee.

Bring back the death penalty

In an interview with the right-leaning Spectator shortly before his appointment, Anderson proudly proclaimed that the UK should bring back the death penalty because “nobody has ever committed a crime after being executed”.

“You know that don’t you? 100 per cent success rate,” he’s reported to have added.

The death penalty was removed across the UK in the mid-1960s and the comments are at odds with the government line and his own comments when on the campaign trail in 2019, but more on that later.

He also gave his views on small boats of refugees coming to the UK — something Sunak has promised to put an end to — by saying he would send them straight back “on a Royal Navy frigate or whatever”. The Spectator did not add whether Anderson had costed the plans, whether they applied to anyone who arrived by small boat or just those who went on to fail the asylum process, or what kind of agreement between the Royal Navy and French officials would make such a policy possible.

“They are seeing a country where the streets are paved with gold,” he is quoted as saying, “where, once you land, they are not in that manky little fucking scruffy tent.”

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Feed your family for 30p

Food bank use has become a regular feature of the cost of living crisis, as soaring inflation and runaway energy bills force millions on low incomes to choose between eating and heating.

Anderson, however, insisted in May 2022 that the reason most people are going to food banks is because they don’t know how to cook.

“You’ve got generation after generation who cannot cook properly. They can’t cook a meal from scratch. They cannot budget,” he said in parliament.

Research at the time showed 2.4 million people had recently gone a day without food and the logic of the proposals evaporated once it made contact with reality, as frontline workers and food banks were swift to point out.

For one, food banks largely provide the raw materials for cooking, including vegetable oil, pasta, and canned goods. But even then cooking might not always be possible for those on the breadline.

The Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram said at the time: “Hard to cook a meal from scratch when you’ve got nothing to cook with and can’t afford to turn the oven or the hob on because energy bills are through the roof and you’ve got to worry about keeping your kids warm and clothed.”

And as The Big Issue reported at the time: “Anderson’s claims that a meal can be made from scratch for 30p a day are based off cooking in bulk for a family of five for a week – which not everyone has the facilities for, or can afford to do. The calculation also does not include rising energy costs.

Breakfast for 16p

Unruffled by people with lived experience and expert knowledge pointing out the flaws in his argument, Anderson doubled down on his fantasy meals claims in early 2023.

“Just been asked for proof of a 30p breakfast. There you go,” Anderson tweeted alongside a stock picture of wheat biscuits in milk. “6p each, just chuck on 10p worth of milk,” he added in a follow up.

Among the many thousands of replies were people pointing out that Anderson was again failing to understand the realities of the cost of living crisis. One person tweeted succinctly: “If you drink 10p worth of milk for breakfast every day then after about six days you’ll have to throw the other £1 worth of milk away.”

Housing and poverty campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa said: “Last time I checked MPs were paid £80,000+ to represent their constituents and try to deliver the best for the people of Britain. 

“Not sit on Twitter suggesting poor people should reduce themselves to surviving on cheap own brand Weetabix and 10p worth of milk.”

Anderson later tweeted a picture of one of his female staffers, insisting that she “earns less than 30k, rents a room for £775pcm in Central London, has student debt, £120 a month on travelling to work saves money every month, goes on foreign holidays & does not need to use a foodbank.”

He neglected to point out that she went to a prestigious boarding school in York costing between £20,000 and £30,000 a year. While no individual is responsible for the way they were brought up and Anderson’s use of a young, female staff member to make a point on Twitter led to “Poor Katy” trending for hours, many doubted whether she was really representative of the millions of households struggling to make ends meet across the country.

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