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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Metro mayors can help Labour return to government

Labour champions in the new city regions can help their party at the national level too.

2017 will mark the inaugural elections of directly-elected metro mayors across England. In all cases, these mayor and cabinet combined authorities are situated in Labour heartlands, and as such Labour should look confidently at winning the whole slate.

Beyond the good press winning again will generate, these offices provide an avenue for Labour to showcase good governance, and imperatively, provide vocal opposition to the constraints of local government by Tory cuts.

The introduction of the Mayor of London in 2000 has provided a blueprint for how the media can provide a platform for media-friendly leadership. It has also demonstrated the ease that the office allows for attribution of successes to that individual and party – or misappropriated in context of Boris Bikes and to a lesser extent the London Olympics.

While without the same extent of the powers of the sui generis mayor of the capital, the prospect of additional metro-mayors provide an opportunity for replicating these successes while providing experience for Labour big-hitters to develop themselves in government. This opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and after Sadiq Khan’s victory in London has shown that the role can grow beyond the limitations – perceived or otherwise - of the Corbyn shadow cabinet while strengthening team Labour’s credibility by actually being in power.

Shadow Health Secretary and former leadership candidate Andy Burnham’s announcement last week for Greater Manchester was the first big hitter to make his intention known. The rising star of Luciana Berger, another member of Labour’s health team, is known to be considering a run in the Liverpool City Region. Could we also see them joined by the juggernaut of Liam Byrne in the West Midlands, or next-generation Catherine McKinnell in the North East?

If we can get a pantheon of champions elected across these city regions, to what extent can this have an influence on national elections? These new metro areas represent around 11.5 million people, rising to over 20 million if you include Sadiq’s Greater London. While no doubt that is an impressive audience that our Labour pantheon are able to demonstrate leadership to, there are limitations. 80 of the 94 existing Westminster seats who are covered under the jurisdiction of the new metro-mayors are already Labour seats. While imperative to solidify our current base for any potential further electoral decline, in order to maximise the impact that this team can have on Labour’s resurgence there needs to be visibility beyond residents.

The impact of business is one example where such influence can be extended. Andy Burnham for example has outlined his case to make Greater Manchester the creative capital of the UK. According to the ONS about 150,000 people commute into Greater Manchester, which is two constituency’s worth of people that can be directly influenced by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Despite these calculations and similar ones that can be made in other city-regions, the real opportunity with selecting the right Labour candidates is the media impact these champion mayors can make on the national debate. This projects the influence from the relatively-safe Labour regions across the country. This is particularly important to press the blame of any tightening of belts in local fiscal policy on the national Tory government’s cuts. We need individuals who have characteristics of cabinet-level experience, inspiring leadership, high profile campaigning experience and tough talking opposition credentials to support the national party leadership put the Tory’s on the narrative back foot.

That is not to say there are not fine local council leaders and technocrats who’s experience and governance experience at vital to Labour producing local successes. But the media don’t really care who number two is, and these individuals are best serving the national agenda for the party if they support A-listers who can shine a bright spotlight on our successes and Tory mismanagement.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the party are able to topple the Conservatives come next election, then all the better that we have a diverse team playing their part both on the front bench and in the pantheon of metro-mayors. If despite our best efforts Jeremy’s leadership falls short, then we will have experienced leaders in waiting who have been able to afford some distance from the front-bench, untainted and able to take the party’s plan B forward.