Sunak declines to condemn Tory candidate’s four-letter post on out-of-work parents

Rishi Sunak has declined to condemn a Tory candidate’s apparent suggestion that out-of-work parents who cannot afford to feed their children should “f*** off”, ahead of two potentially damaging by-elections this week.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary said he believes “actions matter more” than words after Andrew Cooper shared a social media post containing the message.

The Conservative hopeful is seeking to replace former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher as the MP for Tamworth in one of two electoral battles on Thursday.

Mr Sunak was asked during Prime Minister’s Questions about a photo of a flowchart shared by Mr Cooper on Facebook.

The diagram suggested that those who are out of work, pay for “TV Sky/BT/etc”, or “have a phone contract + £30” should “f*** off” rather than seek help.

Labour MP Karin Smyth, raising concerns over people living in poverty, asked Mr Sunak if he would condemn the “foul-mouth comments about families struggling to make ends meet”.

“I’m proud of our record supporting people with the cost of living,” he replied, outlining Government policies aimed at supporting people during the cost-of-living crisis.

Pressed on whether the Prime Minister believed the language was acceptable, his press secretary said his message would be to “judge us by our actions”.

“I think the point that was being made is that the safety net of benefits is there to provide a vital support for those that need it, and, unlike Labour, we’re a party that believes in work to provide for yourself and your family and we back those that do that, so I’d say judge us by our actions on supporting the most vulnerable.”

Asked whether Mr Sunak thinks words do not matter, she said: “He believes actions matter more.”

In a statement given to the Mirror, which first reported the story, Mr Cooper said there need to be “improved incentives to get people into work” and that he thinks “most people in Tamworth would agree that benefits are not there to pay for luxuries”.

Voting will take place on Thursday in both Tamworth (pictured) and Mid Bedfordshire, which was represented by former culture secretary Nadine Dorries until her resignation earlier this year.

They will be a key test for Mr Sunak’s pitch that the Conservatives represent a vote for change, especially as the cause of the Tamworth poll is linked to one of the pivotal moments of former PM Boris Johnson’s downfall.

Labour is hoping to flip comfortable Tory majorities in both constituencies but has been cautious not to appear complacent, with a spokesman saying it is a “moonshot” to win either or both seats.

“We’ve very much got our feet on the ground,” he said. “We’re campaigning to win but understand that these are traditionally very safe Tory seats.”

After a sustained period in which national polling has placed the Opposition comfortably in the lead, the Conservatives are also managing expectations by highlighting the difficulty of mid-term votes for governing parties.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary said the circumstances that led to both by-elections also represented “difficult headwinds” for the party.

Mr Pincher, who had represented the Staffordshire seat since 2010, stood down after being found to have drunkenly groped two men in an “egregious case of sexual misconduct” at London’s exclusive Carlton Club last year.

Ms Dorries quit following a row after she was not given a peerage in Mr Johnson’s resignation honours list, accusing the Prime Minister of abandoning “the fundamental principles of Conservatism”.

The Tories have held that seat since 1931 and Ms Dorries held on to it in 2019 by 24,664 votes over second-placed Labour.

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