Hazel Blears beats a retreat after criticism of Gordon Brown
The motorcycle-riding Communities Secretary is known for her loyalty and
enthusiasm. But another quality of Hazel Blears is mentioned with equal
weight by Cabinet supporters and detractors — ambition.
It was ambition that prompted the 4ft 10in human dynamo to go for the Labour
deputy leadership in 2007. And although she finished sixth and last of the
candidates, she is said to have become a more, rather than less, assertive
figure since. More than anyone else in the Cabinet, she seems determined to
be keeper of the Blairite flame.
As someone who rose fast through the ranks, from parliamentary private
secretary to Alan Milburn, the ultra modernising former Health Secretary, Ms
Blears certainly has strong claims to that mantle.
Senior ministers speak privately of several recent spats between Ms Blears and
Harriet Harman, the Commons leader and deputy leader, in which Ms Blears has
taken the Blairite line against the more traditionalist left-wing approach
adopted by Ms Harman.
Some ministerial colleagues believe that she has spoken out in a deliberately
controversial way to get noticed and help to raise her profile before a
possible leadership contest, should Gordon Brown be defeated at the next
But her friends deny that and claim that her article yesterday was about
improving Labour’s campaigning effort, not as a criticism of Mr Brown.
An adviser said: “This has all been overcooked. It was meant to be a loyalist
exhortation to people to get out campaigning for the European and local
elections and has been seen through a different prism. It is not an attack
Alan Johnson said she would be “distraught” at the way her words had been
interpreted as an attack on Mr Brown. “She is a working-class girl, she says
what she thinks. She starts her article by saying we will go into the next
government with Gordon Brown leading us. She makes the point that we all
ought to be taking responsibility as ministers.”
Mr Johnson was, of course, being kind. If Ms Blears or her advisers did not
realise her remarks — particularly the reference to YouTube — would be seen
as a sideswipe at the Prime Minister, they were being a little naive. But a
statement, hastily released afterwards, appeared to suggest that whatever
they intended they had gone too far.
Ms Blears has never been afraid of controversy. Her work to unite communities
and connect with voters has seen her challenge “unacceptable” religious
beliefs and practices such as forced marriages or homophobia.
She warned recently that the recession could tip Britain towards riots and
civil disorder unless voluntary organisations were given extra resources.
The daughter of a maintenance fitter, Ms Blears was educated at Wardley
Grammar School, Eccles Sixth Form College, Trent Polytechnic and Chester
College of Law, where she trained as a solicitor.
She is now on the political radar in a way she was not before.