Blears faces censure despite walkout apology

Hazel Blears apologised today for the timing of her Cabinet walkout as she faced a battle to hang on to her seat.





The former Communities Secretary admitted she had been wrong to quit on the eve of crucial elections, as it emerged that activists in Salford will bid to deselect her next week.

In her first interview since the dramatic departure last week, Ms Blears tried to defuse anger by insisting that the move was not part of a plot to oust the Prime Minister.

She said her position became untenable after Mr Brown described her failure to pay capital gains tax on the sale of a second home as "totally unacceptable".

She received backing from senior figures in her constituency association in the wake of the revelations.

However, Labour sources at Westminster today confirmed that a deselection motion will be considered at a meeting of activists in Salford next Thursday.

In an interview with the Manchester Evening News, the Salford MP said she had not spoken to Cabinet colleagues, including James Purnell who quit the following day, about her plan to resign.

Ms Blears said she now realised she should not have walked out the day before the European and local elections.

"I genuinely thought I could go without it sparking off this huge firestorm," she said.

"In hindsight that judgment was wrong. I should have waited until after the election. The effect on the party is something I will live with for ever."

Ms Blears ruled out a return to the Government, despite Mr Brown's professed hope that she would do so.

But she expressed remorse for her cutting remarks about the Prime Minister's recent YouTube appearance, in which he set out proposals for the reform of MPs' expenses.

Amid widespread mockery of Mr Brown's awkward performance, she wrote in a newspaper article: "YouTube if you want to.

"But it's no substitute for knocking on doors or setting up a stall in the town centre."

She told the Manchester Evening News today that she had only realised later how the article had been "thoughtless and quite cruel".

Ms Blears also said it had been "a stupid thing to do" to wear a brooch bearing the phrase "Rocking the boat" on the day of her resignation.

The MP's conciliatory remarks were in contrast with fellow former minister Caroline Flint's savage criticism of the Prime Minister since her resignation on Friday.

Ms Blears voluntarily paid £13,000 to the taxman last month after it emerged she had "dual declared" to avoid capital gains on a taxpayer-funded home.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "We have made our statement last week on the issue of Hazel Blears and that's where it rests."

The Cabinet held a special extended meeting in London this morning to thrash out Labour's "next steps" after recent troubles.



It is understood that three branches of Ms Blears' Salford constituency Labour Party are putting forward motions of no confidence in her for consideration on Thursday.

Labour MEP for the North West Brian Simpson said Ms Blears' actions were "unforgivable" and may have cost the party a third European Parliament seat in the region, allowing British National Party leader Nick Griffin to claim a seat by a narrow margin.

Mr Simpson acknowledged that he could not be certain whether the result of the Euro election was effected by Ms Blears' actions.

But he told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that the timing of Ms Blears' departure came as a "body blow" to Labour candidates, MEPs, councillors and activists who had spent the previous weeks campaigning for the party.

Mr Simpson said: "For the campaign workers who had been out on the street, the volunteers and the candidates, in the most difficult of circumstances for over four weeks, we do expect our senior colleagues to understand that, prior to the election, they need to act with responsibility. I didn't feel Hazel acted with responsibility last week."

He added: "The BNP just squeaked in, not because they polled any more than they did five years ago, but because a lot of Labour supporters stayed home.

"I really don't believe the resignation 24 hours before a major election was helpful... To do it at the time she did was unhelpful, and that is unforgivable.

"I know there are a lot of very unhappy Labour Party members out there."



It is understood that three branches of Ms Blears' Salford constituency Labour Party are putting forward motions of no confidence in her for consideration on Thursday.



Labour MEP for the North West Brian Simpson said Ms Blears' actions were "unforgivable" and may have cost the party a third European Parliament seat in the region, allowing British National Party leader Nick Griffin to claim a seat by a narrow margin.



Mr Simpson acknowledged that he could not be certain whether the result of the Euro election was effected by Ms Blears' actions.



But he told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that the timing of Ms Blears' departure came as a "body blow" to Labour candidates, MEPs, councillors and activists who had spent the previous weeks campaigning for the party.



Mr Simpson said: "For the campaign workers who had been out on the street, the volunteers and the candidates, in the most difficult of circumstances for over four weeks, we do expect our senior colleagues to understand that, prior to the election, they need to act with responsibility. I didn't feel Hazel acted with responsibility last week."



He added: "The BNP just squeaked in, not because they polled any more than they did five years ago, but because a lot of Labour supporters stayed home.



"I really don't believe the resignation 24 hours before a major election was helpful... To do it at the time she did was unhelpful, and that is unforgivable.



"I know there are a lot of very unhappy Labour Party members out there."

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