Lee Anderson, an MP who attracted controversy for criticising England footballers for taking the knee and saying food bank users “cannot budget”, has been appointed deputy chairman of the Conservative Party.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak used a reshuffle on Tuesday to handed a senior position to Mr Anderson, the MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire and a former miner, making him deputy to new Tory chairman Greg Hands.
It follows Nadhim Zahawi being sacked last month as party chairman after he was found to have breached the Ministerial Code in relation to his tax affairs.
Mr Anderson retweeted the announcement from the official Conservative Twitter account, saying: “Yes it’s true. From the pits to Parliament. Feeling very proud.”
The 56-year-old is a former Labour member, having represented the party as an Ashfield District councillor until his suspension in February 2018.
He defected to the Tories a month later, blaming a “takeover” of Labour by the “hard-left” under former leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The Brexit supporter snatched the Ashfield seat from Labour in the 2019 election as part of Boris Johnson’s crushing of Mr Corbyn’s outfit in so-called “red wall” constituencies — traditionally the heartland of Labour support in the Midlands, North of England and Wales.
Mr Anderson has been no stranger to controversy during his three years in Westminster.
During a Commons speech in May, he suggested people in the UK use food banks because they “cannot cook properly” and “cannot budget”.
He said people coming to collect a food parcel in his constituency were being shown how to cook meals for “about 30 pence a day”.
In 2021, when the men’s Euro 2020 football tournament was taking place, he vowed to boycott England matches in protest at the players’ anti-racism stance of taking the knee before matches.
Even when Gareth Southgate’s team got to the final, Mr Anderson said he would not tune in, although he admitted he might check the score on his phone.
In a video on Facebook in July that year, Mr Anderson said “I don’t like the taking the knee business” because it was associated with the Black Lives Matter political movement.
During his winning election campaign in 2019, he was criticised for suggesting “nuisance tenants” living on a council estate should be evicted into tents in a field to pick vegetables.
Mr Sunak chose Mr Anderson as deputy chairman despite the MP apparently criticising the Government’s approach to unlawful immigration.
In messages reportedly leaked from a WhatsApp group, he is said to have stated that ministers were acting “like the band on the Titanic”.
The alleged comments came after a Sunday Express front page story claimed Whitehall officials were trying to “scupper” the Prime Minister’s plans to tackle small boats crossing the Channel.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, retweeting the “Titanic” remarks, posted on the social media: “Update: he’s been handed a deck chair.”
Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, tweeted: “Lee Anderson MP has just been made deputy chair of the Conservative Party.
“He boycotted the England team because they took the knee and said people in poverty ‘cannot budget’ and should cook 30p meals.
“That sound you can hear? It’s the Conservatives scraping the barrel.”
Nickie Aiken, MP for Cities of London and Westminster, tweeted that she was “delighted to be continuing as deputy chairman” of the Tory party, a position she will hold alongside Mr Anderson.
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