LONDON (Reuters) - Opposition leader David Cameron faced demands for an apology on Saturday after he called government funding for school visits to the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz a “gimmick”.
Cameron accused Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government in a speech on Friday of being “obsessed with short-term gimmicks”, including a recommendation to schools to make “trips to Poland”.
“We’ve had a gimmick for every week that Gordon Brown has been prime minister. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious,” the Conservative leader said.
A list of 26 gimmicks released to accompany the speech included “Trips to Auschwitz”, a Nazi death camp in Poland.
The government announced this month it would give 4.65 million pounds to the Holocaust Educational Trust — set up in 1988 to educate young people about the Holocaust.
The money will help the trust extend visits to Auschwitz, where some 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, died.
Schools Secretary Ed Balls said Cameron had made a “truly disgraceful remark” and should apologise.
“Anyone who has seen the horrors of Auschwitz at first hand knows what a life-changing experience it is,” he said in a statement.
The Conservatives sought to quell the storm, saying Cameron was not criticising the visits, but the fact that the government funding did not cover their entire cost.
“School trips to Auschwitz are a brilliant idea ... Under a Conservative government these trips would be funded in full,” a party spokesman said.
Labour, hit by a banking crisis and a series of government blunders, trail the Conservatives in opinion polls but Brown does not need to call an election until 2010.
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said the group had taken more than 5,000 students to Auschwitz and the new government funding would enable it to take another 15,000 students by 2011.
“Students use their experience to raise awareness of the lessons of the Holocaust in their schools and local communities, challenging prejudice and racism today,” she said.
Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Stephen Weeks