Tory minister claims that football hooliganism was to blame for Hillsborough Stadium disaster

Jeremy Hunt is forced to apologise after suggesting on Sky that hooligans caused the event.

The new Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has come under fire today after casually suggesting that football hooliganism was responsible for the Hillsborough disaster.

In an interview with Sky News, he said:

[A]s a minister, I was incredibly encouraged by the example set by the England fans, I mean not a single arrest for a football-related offensive, and the terrible problems that we had in Heysel and Hillsborough in the 1980s seem now to be behind us. And I think, you know, there is small grounds for encouragement there even though obviously we are very disappointed about the result.

Hunt's ignorant comments are at odds with the conclusions of the 1990 Taylor report, which ruled that poor crowd control, not the behaviour of Liverpool fans, was to blame for the disaster.

The Tory minister's remarks will revive memories of the claims made by Kelvin MacKenize's Sun newspaper, which, on the Wednesday after the disaster, alleged that Liverpool fans had picked the pockets of the dead, urinated on police officers and attacked rescue workers.

To this day, many Liverpool newsagents refuse to stock the Sun; the tabloid lost more than three-quarters of its sales in the city.

Hunt has since apologised for his comments, but it's troubling that the minister responsible for sport was apparently unaware that claims of hooliganism were disproved long ago.

For a more enlightened take on the subject, read Andrew Hussey's essay from our special issue on 1989 -- "the year of the crowd".

UPDATE: Andy Burnham, who memorably represented the government at Anfield on the 20th anniversary of the disaster, has tweeted: "How sad 2 hear Cab Min echo old slurs on Hboro. Need more than apology -- he must give full support 2 discl panel. Full truth & nothing less."

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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