A Labour MP’s attempt to criticise a Government department for presumed excessive festive spending backfired spectacularly earlier his week.
Robert Neill, a minister in the communities department, highlighted the Government’s commitment to a Christian Christmas, warning against a “Scrooge” mentality.
He was responding to a question from Caroline Flint, Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary. She asked “how many Christmas parties and drinks receptions his Department plans to host in December 2010.”
Robert Neill, MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, responded on behalf of the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles.
He said: “As the Secretary of State indicated in his departmental press notice of 29 November 2010, the new Administration is committed to celebrating Christmas, including its Christian heritage.
“We should not allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christmas and the importance of the birth of Christ.
“Ministers recognise that we live in frugal times due to the need to pay off the significant public deficit and national debt that the Government have inherited from the previous administration. But there is no need to play Scrooge.
“In this context, a Christmas tree has been placed in the Department’s reception at Eland house which has been provided at no cost to the taxpayer.
“This is in contrast to the previous cost of £1,037 for a Christmas tree outlined in the parliamentary answer of 12 November 2009, Official Report, column 849W.
“Ministers plan to hold one small reception for senior DCLG staff to thank them for their hard work this year.
“Their work includes the abolition of bureaucratic Comprehensive Area Assessment and other local red tape, stopping the imposition of bin taxes and the unfair ports tax, and laying the ground for radical new powers for local authorities through the Localism Bill.
“The reception will be held in Eland House. Individual divisions within the Department may hold Christmas lunches paid for by staff.
“A Christmas quiz and Christmas fair are being held for staff to raise funds for the Civil Service Benevolent Fund.
“The fair included Christmas carols sung by the Environment, Transport and Communities choir, ETCetera, and by Westminster Cathedral primary school children.
“Last year, the Department spent £2,855 of taxpayers’ money on Christmas cards. This year the departmental Christmas card, now with appropriate Christian imagery, has been produced at no cost to the taxpayer and will be sent electronically.”
“Recognising the need to look after the vulnerable at this time of year, we are also supporting the homeless charity Shelter in the card. We will ensure that the right hon. Member is included on the distribution list.”
Last month Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said that local authorities should celebrate Christmas in the traditional Christian way and stop worrying about the PC brigade.
Mr Pickles said councils should stop introducing ‘politically correct’ versions of Christmas such as “Winterval”, which combines secular and inter-faith religious elements.
The Communities Secretary called for councils to take pride in British Christian heritage by celebrating the nativity and all the traditions surrounding it.
He said: “The war on Christmas is over, and the likes of Winterval, Winter Lights and Luminous deserve to be in the dustbin of history.
“We live in tough financial times, but there’s no need for town halls to play Scrooge.
“It is in councils’ financial interests to draw in shoppers to town centres, given the benefits of packed car parks to councils’ coffers. Shoppers want to see Christmas lights, Christmas trees, carol services and nativity scenes.”