Ulster-born Tory MP: I have been on the dole

Tory MP Conor Burns pictured in the News Letter offices in Belfast. Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker Press
Tory MP Conor Burns pictured in the News Letter offices in Belfast. Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker Press

An Ulster-born Tory MP has told how he was left so poor after coming second in the 2005 general election that he had to choose between paying his mortgage or council tax.

Conor Burns, who was born in west Belfast, hit back at accusations from the Labour benches that he does not know what it is like to not know where his next meal is coming from.

The MP was shaking as he branded the comments by Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff as “the worst type of class war stereotypical nonsense”.

Mr Burns – an Catholic who became a keen admirer of, and friends with, Margaret Thatcher – said he had signed on for jobseeker’s benefit after graduating in 1994.

He had been elected to Bournemouth West in 2010, after having worked in finance and public relations, including as an associate director of PR firm PLMR.

He had also been the Conservative candidate for Eastleigh in 2005, but had come second behind the Lib Dems.

The row came during a debate on a private members’ bill to reform the Government’s controversial benefits sanctions process.

Ms Sherriff hit out at Mr Burns’ defence of the Government and said: “He is doing his best to suggest he can empathise with people, but I wonder if you have ever experienced not knowing where your next meal is coming from or whether you can feed or clothe your children?”

Visibly angry at the comments, Mr Burns hit back: “I have in fact been in those circumstances.

“When I was unemployed when I graduated in 1994 in the worst graduate recession since the Second World War, when I myself had to sign on.

“And I experienced it again after I tried to get elected to this House in 2005 and hadn’t got the money I had to make the decision about whether you paid the mortgage or the council tax, on overdraft.

“So yes I have.”

His voice rising with anger, he added: “And I have to say, don’t ever sit there and suggest to people that they do not have the ability to empathise in this House of Commons simply because they sit on this side of the House.

“That is the worst type of class war stereotypical nonsense that really we frankly should have moved way beyond in this House a long time ago.”