|Jon Ashworth MP (Labour: Leicester South)|
MP takes on rivals in support of city's bid for 2017 honour
by Dan Martin
MPs locked horns yesterday in a parliamentary debate about the 2017 UK City of Culture contest.Politicians representing the 11 areas bidding for the title gathered to discuss the merits of their various bids.
Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth, who came up with the idea of having the debate to stimulate interest in the competition, told rivals Leicester's case was "overwhelming".
He outlined the discovery of Richard III's remains, the city's history of radical politics and its diverse culture as plus points in its favour but said its people were its biggest asset.
"That's our trump card – the people of Leicester coming together," said Mr Ashworth.
"That's what Leicester is about. That's why our case is overwhelming, because we have the best people.
"Of course, we have found Richard III. He was buried in Leicester for 500 years and we recently found him in a Leicester City Council social services car park.
"We therefore have royalty in Leicester, and I say to honourable friends from Yorkshire, we are holding on to him. Keep your hands off.
"Cardinal Wolsey is also buried somewhere in Abbey Park and it is perhaps time we dug him up, too."
Mr Ashworth said: "Leicester is a city of tremendous diversity. Here, people could be greeted with the words 'As-salam alaykum', 'Namaste', 'Sat sri akaal' or, more simply, 'Alreet, me duck'."
Aberdeen, Chester, Dundee, East Kent, Hastings and Bexhill-on-Sea, Hull, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Southampton, Southend-on-Sea and Swansea bay have submitted initial bids and judges are to pick a short list of four later this summer.
Leicester currently sits as second favourite with the bookies at odds of 5-1, behind Chester.
It is expected the eventual winner will see a surge in visitors, boosting its economy by millions of pounds.
Yesterday's debate was called – or started – by Southend West MP David Amess, who had previously described some of the other bidding cities as dumps.
While speaking in support of his own town's bid, he referred, in error to King Edward's remains being discovered in a Leicester car park, before correcting himself.
He said: "I am biased. I think that Southend is the strongest bid. Our bid is themed, quite beautifully, around the Thames estuary, which flanks our town.
"Fittingly, if Southend wins the bid, a museum of the Thames estuary would be developed and we would continue to partner other estuarial areas across the world."
Swansea West MP Geraint Davies said: "When people think of Swansea, naturally they think of Dylan Thomas, who was born there 100 years ago next year, when we celebrate the centenary. Of course, Dylan Thomas is the most translated poet of all time, second only to Shakespeare.
"There is a glistening array of stars from Swansea.
"One only has to think of Sir Anthony Hopkins, Michael Sheen and Catherine Zeta-Jones – I am sure Michael Douglas is applying for a visa as we speak."
Chester MP Stephen Mosley said: "Honourable members will be aware of the beautiful city of Chester, with our world-famous Roman city walls, our historic cathedral, the unique mediaeval shopping galleries, our beautiful River Dee. We have the Eastgate clock, which is the most photographed clock in the world after the clock that stands above this house.
"All are key features in our city and all are known across the globe."
Details of Leicester's initial bid include proposals for a huge Richard III dramatic re-enactment in various locations around the city and a giant movable light show.