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Sunday, 5 May, 2002, 19:27 GMT 20:27 UK
Tory leader defends 'tolerant' party
Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has said his party is a "decent and tolerant" one in which there is no place for "offensive" racist jokes like the one told by sacked Tory front-bencher Ann Winterton.

Mr Duncan Smith was speaking after dismissing the shadow rural affairs minister over the "unacceptable" joke she told at a rugby club dinner in her Cheshire constituency of Congleton.

The punchline was that an Englishman threw a Pakistani out of a railway carriage coach, saying they were "10 a penny" in his country.

It is staggering that there are still senior politicians in the Conservative Party making jokes of this kind

Mark Oaten
Liberal Democrats

Mr Duncan Smith offered Mrs Winterton the chance to resign but she refused and he told her to stand down.

The Tory leader said: "I believed her remarks were offensive to a large number of people and from a member of the shadow cabinet I thought that was unacceptable."

Some of the 160 guests at the Congleton Rugby Union club, where Mrs Winterton is vice-president, were shocked when they heard the joke on Friday night, the Sunday Mirror reported.

The 61-year-old MP issued an apology saying: "I unreservedly apologise if anyone was offended or took offence to what I said."

Lord Taylor of Warwick
Lord Taylor of Warwick had called for her to go

But there were immediate calls for her resignation and Mr Duncan Smith contacted her on Sunday morning at her constituency home, where she lives with her husband Nicholas, also a Conservative MP.

She was unavailable for comment on Sunday but Mr Winterton said his wife was "very saddened" at what had happened.

Mr Duncan Smith said he hoped the "swiftness" with which he sacked Mrs Winterton had "drawn a line" under the controversy.

The sacking followed a call by Lord Taylor of Warwick for Mrs Winterton's removal.

Lord Taylor said it showed an "appalling lack of political judgment" and called for the Tories to be "proactive" on racism.

The joke was unfortunate particularly in light of the fact that three BNP councillors were elected in Burnley this week

Commission for Racial Equality

"Iain Duncan Smith did act swiftly, I give him credit for that," he said.

"But this is the Conservative Party being reactive.

"All they're doing is putting a sticking plaster on a wound - they can't just wait for the next wound to erupt."

Tony Cupper, chair of Congleton Conservative Association, said she should have resigned before being fired.

But he added: "I have known Ann for many, many years and I have never heard her say anything or do anything that would lead one to believe that she was racist in any form."

The Commission for Racial Equality described Mrs Winterton's joke as "unfortunate", adding that this was particularly so "in the light of the fact that three British National Party councillors were elected in Burnley this week".

'Extremely bad'

It said it was encouraged by the dismissal and applauded Mr Duncan Smith for showing leadership.

Ann Winterton's husband Nicholas talks to reporters at his house in Cheshire
Nicholas Winterton: "My wife is not a racist"
Liberal Democrat party chairman Mark Oaten said: "It is staggering that there are still senior politicians in the Conservative Party making jokes of this kind.

"Although Iain Duncan Smith has done the right thing in sacking her it does beg the question of fundamental the reforms of the Conservative Party really are."

Restaurant owner Anan Islam, who sponsors Congleton Rugby Union Club, said he was planning to withdraw his support for the club following Mrs Winterton's comments.

Mr Islam, who owns the Taste of Raj, in Congleton, has sponsored the club for several years but condemned Mrs Winterton's comments as "extremely bad".

He said: "She is not an ordinary person, she is a public personality and she cannot make that kind of comment."

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"The joke ended her shadow ministerial career"
Alyson Roylance-White, Congleton Conservative Assoc.
"Ann is greatly liked within the constituency and has told many good jokes in the past"
Shazia Mirza, Comedienne
"It's just not funny"
See also:

20 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Senior Tory regrets Spice joke
06 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Tory's golly joke 'moronic'
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