A Tory minister has compared a leading Labour MP to conspiracy theorist David Icke and predicted he will “jump into his turquoise tracksuit and start telling everybody the world is run by lizards”.
Housing Minister Christopher Pincher launched the bizarre rant tonight in the Commons while debating, of all things, the government’s reforms to the planning system.
Labour’s Steve Reed had accused ministers of “selling out” communities as a way of “paying back” Conservative Party donors who work in the housing sector.
The Shadow Communities Secretary told Parliament: “Since the current Prime Minister took office, donations to the Conservative Party from major developers have increased by nearly 400% according to analysis by Open Democracy.
“That money was an investment in expectation of a return and here it is: the Prime Minister is paying back developers by selling out communities.”
But his comments appeared to hit a nerve – as Mr Pincher responded by comparing Mr Reed to a “witchfinder general”.
“We all know that he (Reed) is trying to make a name for himself – quite some name,” he fumed. “And we know too that he has one or two little hobby horses. But like so many hobby horses, they can run into an obsession.
“Because he started out quite normally with an interest in planning and its rules.
“But quickly, all too quickly, it went downhill.
“He conceives of himself to be some sort of latter day witchfinder general, chief of the inquisition, constantly in search of some heresy under every stone, finding plots and conspiracy under every brick.”
He added: “In just a few minutes he has gone from acting like [Grand Inquisitor] Thomas de Torquemada to being like David Icke.
“How long will it be before he runs off and jumps into his turquoise tracksuit and starts telling everybody the world is run by lizards and he is the godhead?”
Backbench anger is building over the plans, with “legions of hostile comments” in WhatsApp groups following the Liberal Democrat victory in Chesham and Amersham last week.
Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale told the Mirror that 80 to 100 Tories would not accept the plans as they stood – and said Tory WhatsApp groups had been “steamingly hostile” in recent days.
Ex-PM Theresa May and former Cabinet Minister Theresa Villiers have already criticised the plans, which opponents say will reduce the rights of communities to have their say on developments.
Labour was due to force a Commons vote on the issue tonight.
Labour MP Charlotte Nichols said the proposed reforms were “obviously terrible”, adding to sounds of protest from Tories: “Could it be connected to the fact that developer donations to the Tory party have risen 400% since [Boris Johnson] became leader of his party?
“Scarcely a week goes by without stories emerging of the Communities Secretary weighing in on behalf of developers who’ve made big donations to him or the Conservatives.
“We can see the threat to our green and pleasant land from these greedy present plans.
“I suspect the government would like to drop these proposals but this is difficult when they’ve been bought.”
Mr Pincher insisted the Government’s reforms will “protect our valuable and beautiful green spaces with vital protections in place for the green belt”.
The plans would bring a “cumbersome paper-based system into the digital age” and replace a slow and inconsistent system, he said.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We want to make the planning system easier to navigate while focusing on better design.
“A planning bill will be brought forward during this second parliamentary session and we will publish a response to the white paper consultation in due course.” The spokesman said ministers were aiming to get local people more engaged in the planning process from the start.
While the PM is expected to avoid a rebellion later in the non-binding vote, it will heap pressure on Tory MPs in the party’s traditional heartlands over the reforms.
Mr Gale said: “I have been banging on about this to Robert Jenrick and Boris Johnson for months because I am appalled at the way agricultural land is being used for development. I’m beside myself with anger about it. It’s wrong.”
The North Thanet MP added: “There are 80 to 100 backbenchers in the South/South East of England who would not accept what is being put forward. Down the road there is big trouble brewing.”
Tory MP Bob Seely blamed planning reforms and HS2 for the by-election loss – and said ministers should ditch the “electorally toxic” bid for a “planning free for all”.
He wrote in the Telegraph: “Ripping up peoples’ rights to object is a fool’s errand. Post-Brexit, we need to be empowering communities, not emasculating them.”