Lee Anderson, the controversial Conservative party deputy chairman, is facing a possible libel claim from a constituent who runs a Nottinghamshire food bank.
Michael Hollis has claimed that the Tory MP, who is known as “30p Lee” for his views on families and budgets, posted defamatory comments about him on Facebook at the beginning of this month.
Lawyers for Hollis, a retired accounts manager who runs a food bank charity, have sent Anderson a “pre-action” protocol letter claiming that he implied that money had changed hands in brown envelopes in relation to a planning application.
Hollis, who lives in Anderson’s constituency of Ashfield, which is northwest of Nottingham, is said to be “outraged” by the allegation and has denied any impropriety.
As part of the pre-litigation protocol Hollis’s legal team have given Anderson 14 days to remove the social media post, to give an undertaking not to repeat the allegations and to apologise.
Tamsin Allen, a partner at Bindmans, the London law firm representing Hollis, said if the MP did not comply with the request their client would consider issuing court proceedings for defamation.
In his Facebook post, Anderson began with the question: “Brown envelopes?” He went on to refer to the sale of a local field that he said was “worth a few thousand quid” yet sold “for many times it’s [sic] value when there is little chance of ever building on this green space”.
The MP added that local councillors decided to override a planning department ruling that the space should not be developed.
Anderson said: “Some people are suggesting that because the applicant is the father of the councillor who is the executive lead member for housing at Ashfield Council [Tom Hollis] that there may be dark forces at work. My conclusion — I could not possibly comment.”
The controversial MP was again catapulted into the headlines a week ago when he was appointed as the Tory party’s deputy chairman. Outspoken Anderson was a Labour Party member of Ashford district council before he joined the Conservatives and was elected to parliament in the 2019 general election.
The 56-year-old son of a coal-miner, who himself worked in the mines for ten years, has commented that most people who use food banks should not do so because meals could be cooked at home for 30p a day.
Anderson has also backed capital punishment on the grounds that it has a “100 per cent success rate” in preventing re offending. His comments about capital punishment prompted Rishi Sunak to say that he did not support the death penalty. The prime minister said: “That’s not my view, that’s not the government’s view.”
Anderson’s elevation to the upper echelons of the Tory party has cheered so-called red wall MPs. In an interview with The Spectator before his appointment, Anderson argued he was “speaking from a position of strength” when he criticised food bank users.
“I can say it because I was a single parent for 17 years with two boys. I struggled,” he told the magazine, adding: “I know what it’s like to put your last fiver in the gas metre. I know what it’s like to have to sell your car because you can’t afford to run it — so I’ll take no lectures from anybody about being hard up and struggling for survival.”
It is understood that Anderson has instructed lawyers in relation to the threat of defamation proceedings. Neither he nor his legal team responded to requests for comment.