A council has voted to call on Home Secretary James Cleverly to visit Stockton and apologise for allegedly calling the town a “s**thole” in Parliament.

Labour politicians said residents were still talking about the debacle, in which Mr Cleverly claimed he had merely called Alex Cunningham a “s**t MP” after the Stockton North member questioned Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on child poverty in the constituency

Mr Cleverly apologised for using “unparliamentary language” but denied insulting the area itself in November last year.

Now councillors for Labour, which runs Stockton Council, have said the authority should condemn the comment, call on Mr Cleverley to make a full apology to Stockton’s people and invite him to the town to say sorry.

However the Conservatives did not support this, asserting there was no “slam dunk” proof Mr Cleverly made the “s**thole” remark.

At a full Stockton Council meeting on Wednesday night Labour member Councillor Paul Rowling, who represents the town centre ward, put forward the motion saying: “It is clear that residents are incensed. Residents across the borough… are furious at the Home Secretary’s refusal to apologise for what he clearly said.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Paul Rowling.Cllr Paul Rowling. (Image: LDR)

“The comment was a disgrace and an outrage. It was wholly inaccurate, misinformed and insulting to the residents of Stockton-on-Tees, a borough with a proud history that has had and continues to have a global impact.

“For the Home Secretary to first deny he said anything at all, to then come up with a story that he was talking about the MP for Stockton North was as ridiculous as it was desperate. I’m sorry but this non-apology takes all of us in this borough for fools.

“People from across the globe from different political persuasions saw the comment for what it was – a shameful slur on our borough. It’s time for the Home Secretary to make a very over-due apology to our residents.

“The Home Secretary needs to hear a loud and clear message from this council chamber tonight that we do not accept his attempt to wriggle out of apologising. We will not forget this comment.”

Other Labour members supported him. Cllr Norma Stephenson said: “Let’s be honest – everyone in this room knows what he said, and everyone out there knows too.”

The Northern Echo: Cllr Norma Stephenson.Cllr Norma Stephenson. (Image: LDRS)

Cllr Nathan Gale said he and residents were deeply offended: “We take immense pride in our town and its history, and we refuse to be defined by the negative stereotypes which Cleverly has perpetuated.

“What is even more disappointing is the lack of vigour and response from the local Conservative representatives. Their silence speaks volumes. It is their duty to defend and advocate for their residents, yet they have failed to do so,” he added, urging Tory members to “show backbone” and denounce the alleged comment.

“It is shameful that instead of focusing on the real issues and working towards solutions, Cleverly has chosen to attack and belittle a whole town and its residents. This type of divisive and disrespectful rhetoric has no place in politics.

“Despite Cleverly’s hurtful words, Stockton is a town filled with kind, hard-working and resilient people. We will not be defined by his ignorant remarks, we will continue to stand together and support each other.”

Cllr Nigel Cooke, cabinet member for regeneration, said the controversy about the “deplorable comments” still rumbled on: “The people of this borough will remember that day that these words were spoken, and the person who spoke them, and also the government that he is a member of.”

The Northern Echo: Cllr Nigel Cooke.Cllr Nigel Cooke. (Image: LDRS)

He urged councillors to stand up for the town’s good name and “get behind this motion. Failure to do so will fly in the face of public opinion and expectation, and in my view will be letting the borough down.”

Cllr Barry Woodhouse added: “On the doorstep they’re actually still talking about that, and I was amazed it’s lasted so long.”

Independent Cllr Ray Godwin said: “Mr Cleverly should not only apologise, but he should hang his head in shame and face the consequences.”

However Conservative group leader Cllr Tony Riordan said it was not proved the comment was aimed at the town. He said: “There is no evidential slam dunk here.

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“I would wholeheartedly join in with a chorus of condemnation against anyone who badmouths our proud borough and its fantastic people who live and work here. However the cacophony of noise following the episode in Parliament, no matter how loud it is, we do not have a crystal clear and indisputable recording of what or wasn’t said.

“If we are to condemn someone it is our duty to ensure that the evidence is irrefutable. We are not in possession of that evidence. No one is.”

Cllr Niall Innes, also Conservative parliamentary candidate for Stockton North, said: “Not one of us should be sitting in this chamber if we don’t all believe Stockton is a fantastic place to work, to live and to represent. I know I speak for our entire group when I say that anybody that besmirches Stockton or its name should and will be and has been condemned.”

But he said the motion was “grasping at straws”, adding: “If only the Labour group of this council spent its time more on trying to get this council out of the £9m black hole it’s found itself in.”

The debate prompted some heated exchanges in the chamber, with calls from Cllr Riordan to “rein this speaker in” about a Labour member at one point and the chair telling people to sit down.

The motion was carried by 29 Labour and Independent members in favour to 20 Conservative councillors against

 Two Conservative members – Cllrs Alan Watson and Sally Ann Watson, representing Ingleby Barwick North – abstained from the vote.

The Home Office has been contacted for a comment.