David Cameron has heaped high praise on the work of a Holocaust charity and its trips to Auschwitz with British schoolchildren – a initiative he once dismissed as a “gimmick”.
Prime Minister David Cameron meets Holocaust survivor Freda Wineman on Monday
Cameron was responding to a question from Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi, marking Holocaust Memorial Day on Thursday.
Prime Minister David Cameron says HET is an “absolutely brilliant charity” during PMQs
Cameron called the holocaust memorial trust a gimmick when in opposition.
Zahawi said: “Sixty-eight years ago this Sunday, the Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated.
“As we mark Holocaust memorial day, will the Prime Minister commit to ensuring that young people in this country always have the opportunity to learn about what took place in the darkest period in our shared history, and will he commend the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust?”
Cameron called HET “an absolutely brilliant charity and organisation that makes sure that young people from schools across the country have the opportunity to go and see the places where the terrible events of the Holocaust took place.”
HET’s chief executive Karen Pollock told HuffPost UK: “We’re absolutely thrilled we were mentioned in Prime Minister’s Question Time.
“Cameron was clearly deeply touched when he met a Holocaust survivor Freda Wineman and the young Holocaust Educational Ambassadors on Monday morning, and took time out of a hectic schedule to do so. This government have been extremely supportive.”
But in 2008, when Cameron was leader of the opposition, the Conservatives included the trips on a list of “gimmicks” that the Labour government failed to deliver. Labour had promised to make the trips free, rather than costing pupils £100 each.
A Conservative spokesman said at the time: “There is no way we think that trips to Auschwitz are a gimmick.
“The gimmick is for the government to make an announcement without providing the means for it to happen.”
Then education secretary Ed Balls condemned the “gimmick” jibe, saying: “To call the announcement I made of £4.65m to fund visits by school children over the next three years a ‘gimmick’ just beggars belief.
“In trying to make this issue into a matter of party politics, David Cameron has shown once again that he not only lacks judgement but also a basic sense of decency.”
Labour peer Lord Janner, then chair and now founding patron of HET, called the attack “a low form of politics” but Conservative peer Lord Hunt, vice-president of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said Labour had deliberately taken the words out of context.
Funding for the trips was renewed in 2011 by the coalition government. Pupils pay £59 for the day-long trip to Auschwitz, subsidised by the Trust and the government grant.