Hazel Blears: You ask the questions
Is this the worst recession for 100 years? And what motorbike should I buy?
Monday 16 February 2009
Is Ed Balls right that this will be the worst recession for a hundred years? Or are we about to start emerging from the downturn, as Alistair Darling promised?
George Bernard Shaw said that if you laid out all the economists end-to-end they still wouldn't reach a conclusion, and that's also true of people comparing today's recession with previous eras. I don't think historical comparisons are helpful, not least because our modern economy is so different from 1990, 1981, 1929, 1873 or whichever date you choose. What people want is real help now, protecting their jobs and homes.
Why don't you mount a coup against miserable Gordon Brown, who is losing you votes every time he looms on our television screens?
With Gordon Brown's leadership and experience we've saved the banks, and our savings, and done the right things to protect the economy from a recession which started in the USA. At the election, people will choose between Labour, doing the right thing, and the Tories who would make things worse.
Do you agree that our financial institutions might be better run by intelligent women than by a bunch of gung-ho old male establishment farts?
In a recent speech you gave a view of what Jesus would think of the recession. Don't you think it's inappropriate for a government minister to sermonise like that?
I made the point that Jesus was concerned with the poorest and most vulnerable – which most people can agree with, I hope, even if they're not Christians. And it was a speech, not a sermon. Faith is such an important part of so many people's lives, politicians shouldn't ignore it.
Do you think it is morally right that a Cabinet minister can keep a home with her family in the Midlands, then claim massive expenses for sharing a flat with her sister? Seems pretty disgusting to me...
Sorry you're disgusted. But MPs have to live in two places, the rules are clear, and Jacqui is within the rules.
You voted for ID cards, student top-up fees, privatisation of the NHS and the Iraq War. You voted against an Iraq War inquiry. Ever wondered why the voters despise you New Labour apparatchiks and are desperate for a real Labour Party?
I was pleased to see the back of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban.I support ID cards because they will protect us against criminals and terrorists. I support top-up fees because they mean more young people can go to university, not just middle-class kids. We have not privatised the NHS, we have rescued it as a public institution, built new hospitals and brought waiting lists down. I am proud of the Labour Government. And Darren, the choice is not between today's Labour Party and some other Labour Party of your dreams: it is between Labour and the Tories.
You haven't voted against the government once since 2001. Have you agreed on every single issue, or have you sacrificed your principles to your career?
I have been a member of the Labour Government during that time, so you shouldn't be too surprised that I've voted Labour every time. One of my abiding principles, taught by father who was a blacklisted trade unionist, is solidarity: sticking together in the face of the Tories. I'm also instinctively loyal to my party, which I am convinced is the best instrument to create a better society.
You recently said that political campaigning is like sex. In that case, what's policy-making like?
It's like nailing jelly to a wall.
What do you stand for, Hazel, apart from re-election?
Opportunities for everyone to fulfil their full potential, especially the poorest; safe streets and stable neighbourhoods; decent public services which respond to their users; a citizens' democracy where everyone can have their say; more co-ops, mutuals and social enterprises run by local people; Salford continuing its transformation into a world-class city. And yes, re-election because in democratic politics you need a mandate. Without one you're just standing on the sidelines, complaining about other people. I spent the 1980s doing that, and it gets you nowhere fast.
Do you and your party truly understand and care why the public has become so disillusioned?
I care deeply about political disillusionment and disengagement, because democracy is the onlysystem worth having, and that means people standing for office, voting, debating and joining political parties. The decline of democratic political parties and the rise of the unaccountable commentariat and corrosive right-wing bloggers is a worrying trend.
Why did local councils fail so abjectly to keep things running in the recent bad weather? How can they possibly have run out of salt?
I think they did a decent job, given the ferocity of the weather. In the UK, we don't maintain vast mountains of salt or to maintain fleets of snow ploughs because we're not Norway.
Do you seriously think Geert Wilders poses a threat to community cohesion? Doesn't the government's decision just give his despicable views more publicity?
It was a tough call, but on balance I am glad we sent this nasty little man packing. We've got enough troubles at home with the recession without people coming here with the express intent of stirring things up.
Which opposition MP is the most difficult opponent?
None of them give me sleepless nights. The Tories, especially, are a right shower. Looking at them across the Dispatch Box, I can tell you that they haven't changed their instincts, their values, or their political priorities since the 1980s. Thatcherism lives and breathes in the modern Tory party, despite that nice Mr Cameron! I feel like shouting "They're behind you" when he sits grinning on his Front Bench.
Jeremy Clarkson called your boss a one-eyed Scottish idiot. What would you call him?
I call the boss "Gordon". And as for Clarkson...
I'm thinking about getting a motorbike. What sort should I get? What sort do you have?
My advice is to test-drive as many different types as you can, because you can spend a lot of time with your bike, and you don't want to get it wrong. I'm getting one custom-made for me at the moment.
Do you still think ethnic minorities need rebranding?
My suggestions from some years ago didn't catch on, but we should continue to debate the terms we use, and ensure that they reflect the real situation. I've always thought the term "Asian" to be especially odd, because we tend to use it to refer to people with their origins in the Indian sub-continent, but not other parts of the continent of Asia. In the UK we don't term someone with their origins in China, Korea, or Japan "Asian", do we?
What would the title of your autobiography be? And whatwill your epitaph be?
Short and to the Point? Short and Sweet? Best leave it to the publishers. I'm not writing any epitaphs just yet...
Was it embarrassing to finish last in the race for deputy leader of the Labour party? What did you do wrong?
I wasn't embarrassed, because I knew from the outset that standing on a proudly New Labour ticket would be a tough gig. It was the right thing to do, if not the most popular thing to do. The last thing the Labour Party needed was a lurch off to the left and a repudiation of the past 10 years – a point well made by Gordon Brown during the campaign. That said, I got some fantastic support, especially from young party members, and had a great time on the campaign trail and hustings. Political campaigning is what I do, and part of who I am.
Who is the worst tap dancer in your parliamentary troupe, the Division Belles? And the best?
We are all equally good – or bad!
Have you had to wriggle out of giving a straight answer to any of the questions in this interview?
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