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.

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Who benefits, and who loses out, from David Cameron’s housing plan?

The prime minister’s plan to scrap the affordable rental homes requirement, explained.

What has Cameron actually announced about housing today?

In David Cameron’s closing speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester today, he announced plans to change the requirements to build affordable rented homes in new developments so developers can build "starter homes" instead of homes to be leased at affordable or social rents. 

The policy is geared toward ensuring that his party meets its campaign pledge of building 200,000 new homes by the close of this parliament, by taking the emphasis off renting (affordable housing requirements usually refer to rented, not owned houses) and onto owning. It should, claims Cameron, take us from “Generation Rent” to “Generation Buy".

What sort of houses will they build instead?

"Starter homes" are homes sold at 80 per cent of market rates to those under 40. These an be sold for a maximum of £450,000 in London, and £250,000 everywhere else. 

That sounds quite good!  

There is a chance that Cameron is right – that removing these obstacles will make developers move through the planning process more quickly, and will help boost the number or houses built. 

But (and this is a big but): most predictions so far are that this won’t happen, and if it does, it’ll only help a very specific demographic. As my colleague Stephen Bush has already pointed out, the announcement is good politics, but bad policy. It makes it look like Cameron is doing something about the housing crisis, while scoring points with big property developers along the way.

My colleague Jonn Elledge, meanwhile, notes that this system could actually slow down housebuilding, as the houses will take longer to sell than they would to let. Moreover, if housebuilding is more profitable in the long run, this will push up land – and therefore house – prices. 

Who'll benefit?

Tory voters and their children, in a nutshell. The starter homes will mostly be one or two bedrooms, and will be aimed at working couples.

Shelter calculated earlier this year that a couple would need a combined income of £76,957 in London and £50,266 in the rest of the UK to afford one of these homes, which makes it clear that they're aimed at well-off professionals. If you're in a stable relationship, earn £40,000 or £26,000 a year each and are looking to get on the housing ladder, you're in luck. 

Who won't it help? 

Everyone else. Under this policy, the Conservatives are effectively redefining “affordable”, just as they co-opted the phrase “living wage” earlier this year. By most peoples' definitions, a housing option only available to those with access to £80,000 in earnings a year is not affordable. The situation outside London is a little better. 

That’s not to say the affordable housing requirements were perfect before – these, too, were defined by some councils as 80 per cent of market rents, which in many places equates to anything but affordable. Yet removing the requirement for affordable rentals leaves nothing for those unable to afford to buy, leaving the squeezed lower-middle (and most young people) increasingly in the lurch.

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.