Hazel Blears: You Ask The Questions

The Labour Party chair on the last time she disagreed with Tony Blair, and whether she has ever smoked a joint
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Why has Labour's membership halved from 400,000 to about 200,000 since 1997? What is the latest figure? JESSICA ELLIS, NORTH LONDON

When people hated the Tories and wanted to get rid of them we saw a surge in membership - up to 400,000. After 1997, when Labour was elected, it started to fall away again because people didn't really see a need to be in a political party. Across the world political parties have seen their memberships fall, and, worse, their levels of activism fall too. As a Labour Party activist for over 25 years I want to see the Labour Party buck the trend and rebuild its activist base. Jessica, would you like a membership form?

With hindsight, was it wrong for Labour to become financially dependent on a small number of rich donors? GEORGE LEWIS, SALISBURY

We've never been financially dependent on rich donors but we've always welcomed contributions from individuals who share our values and want us to succeed - large or small. There's a major review of party funding at the moment and I am determined that we secure a sound financial settlement for political parties. You can't have a democracy without political parties. Political campaigning costs money and has to be paid for somehow. We need the right balance between donations, state support and membership and affiliation fees and we need a level playing field between all parties to end the election spending "arms race" which evidence suggests makes little difference to people's voting behaviour.

Is Labour on a sound financial footing in the wake of the "cash for honours" scandal or does it face severe problems? M KHAN, WOLVERHAMPTON

We do face financial problems and we need to raise more money from our supporters in order to get our message across and continue to campaign on behalf of working people.

Is Westminster a hard place for women, and have you personally experienced any discrimination? If so, what? UNA BRADY, EDINBURGH

Westminster is still dominated by men and it is still difficult for women to be treated seriously. The hours and ethos of the place are not women (or people!) friendly. We need to do more to break down the stereotypes so politics can be a place for everyone. I haven't personally experienced discrimination, but rest assured if I had done I would have taken action to sort it.

Who do you predict will be Labour's first woman Prime Minister? GEMMA SAUNDERS, NORWICH

I worked closely with Barbara Castle and I always wished that she had been Labour's first woman Prime Minister. She was sacked from the Cabinet 20 years ago and was active in politics for another 18 years. She would have applauded [Tony] Blair and [Gordon] Brown reinstating the link between pensions and earnings which Thatcher removed. As for the future - who knows? There's no shortage of candidates!

Why do you think the Tories are seven points ahead of Labour, according to the latest data? MELVYN LATIMER, NOTTINGHAM

For the last few weeks we've been talking to ourselves and it's clear that the only people who benefit from Labour arguments are Tories. However, oppositions are usually ahead in the polls at this stage of the parliament. On the current polling the lead is not enough for [David] Cameron to win an election. Even the dreaded Michael Howard led Labour in the polls in 2004 before losing in 2005. Cameron is new and interesting and sections of the media seem bewitched by him but Britain is not begging for a Conservative government. People can still remember the last one.

Should Gordon Brown succeed Tony Blair without a leadership election, or would it be healthy for Labour to have a contest? BETTY DANIELS, BOURNEMOUTH

That's up to Labour Party members. It will happen when it happens. In the meantime we have to get on with the job and deliver on the promises we made at the election just a year ago.

Are we safer as a country from the threat of terrorism than we were five years ago? BRIAN COOK, AMERSHAM

10 years ago I was driving in to Manchester when the bomb went off in our shopping centre. Terrorism was rampant - we had a lull and now it's back again and it's global. We have to make sure the police and the security services have the powers to protect us but we also need to tackle the underlying causes by working with decent people across the world.

Do you believe in God? MARTYN GREEN, YEOVIL

Yes. There has to be something more ...

Do you accept the criticism that antisocial behaviour orders are criminalising a generation of young people? MARIA CAFFERTY, LIVERPOOL

No. Asbos are only there to stop people behaving in an antisocial way Many young people are themselves the victims of antisocial behaviour and want this to be tackled. We do need to do more early intervention and prevention work to give young people and their families the chance to live better lives and that's exactly what the Respect Plan will do.

What's the most drunk you've ever been? JONATHAN RICHARDS, WEST LONDON

I can't remember!

Have you ever smoked cannabis or taken any other illegal drugs? EMMA COCKERILL, LONDON

I tried a joint once but smoking it hurt my chest and it wasn't worth repeating the experience.

As Labour Party chairman don't you think it is in the interest of the Labour Party (and the nation) that Tony Blair should resign as party leader and Prime Minister as soon as possible? STEPHEN CHANG, BY E-MAIL


Should a vacancy arise, would you accept the role of Deputy Prime Minister? JAY FERMONT, HARROGATE

We've got a Deputy Prime Minister and I think people should calm down and get on with their jobs. The voters don't like it when political leaders seem more interested in their career advancement than the country's success.

Do you think John Prescott's affair has damaged the Labour Party's standing among women? RACHEL BAKER, LOUGHBOROUGH

Yes - as leaders, people rightly expect us to show a good example.

As a Home Office minister for three years, do you feel responsible for the fact that John Reid thinks it's "not fit for purpose"? JULIANNE CHANDLER, COCKERMOUTH

I worked with the police for three years. I admire what they do but I agree with John Reid that we need to change the criminal justice system to make sure it's on the side of decent law-abiding people.

When did you last disagree with Tony Blair? RICHARD FULLER, STOCKTON-ON-TEES

Last Tuesday - I told him to be tougher on Cameron.

Does Tony Blair pre-programme you to stay on message during interviews, or is the correct form of New Labour speak fed directly into your brain from a central computer? RICHARD NEWSON, WHITTON, SOUTH-WEST LONDON

No , despite the huge advances in technology we don't yet have the Matrix - I say what I believe - how about you?

Do you think people are turned off politics by the robotic way you and many of your colleagues parrot the party line? S KHAN, BIRMINGHAM

No. People are turned off politics by boring technocratic and managerial language. We need more passion and commitment.

Why don't you get rid of the Human Rights Act? DAVID McBRIDE, SOUTH LONDON

Because all of us as human beings are entitled to be treated fairly and with decency.

Is your tendency to lay down the law to your audience an innate characteristic, or did you develop it while training as a solicitor? VICTOR SMYTHE, BY E-MAIL

I tell it as I see it - it's all I can do.

Why do lawyers who become politicians forget everything important they ever knew about the law? EDWARD COULSON, BRADLEY, WEST YORKSHIRE

We don't. I trained as a lawyer so that I could help to change the law to make the country a fairer place and now I've got the chance to do it.

Who would win in a fight between a Hedgehog and a Squirrel? Please explain your answer. SIMON SPILLER, BY E-MAIL

I've no idea. Animals don't usually fight for the sake of it and we shouldn't do it either.

Why do you and a number of other middle-aged New Labour women dye your hair a nasty red (which doesn't match your flesh tones) instead of letting it go grey and having it cut beautifully? DON MANLEY, OXFORD

My hairdresser will be very upset - he cuts my hair beautifully!

Does it irritate you that women cabinet ministers are subject to (often unkind) scrutiny over their appearance while male ministers suffer no such analysis? BRIDIE HARRIS, BRIDLINGTON

Women in all walks of life are criticised incessantly about their appearance. Men just don't have the same problem: a clean shirt and away they go!

You must be one of the shortest MPs in parliament. Are there any advantages to being your height? LINDA HARRISON, NORTH BERWICK

I was the shortest MP until Sarah Teather was elected. Making an impact has nothing to do with being tall.

How does your husband cope with having such a high-profile wife? Has it ever caused tensions? MADELINE COWELL, WEST SUSSEX

You'll have to ask him ...

When did you take up tap dancing and do you ever perform in public? CHRIS STOKES, LUDLOW

I started tapping when I was seven and formed the Division Belles in Parliament five years ago. Once a year we take part in a concert which raises money for Macmillan nurses.

What's the point of Salford? BILLY KRAMER, NORTH LONDON

It's a fantastic place - it's my home town. Come and see for yourself - I'll show you round.

I hate motorcycles. Why do you like them so much? ZOE MACDONALD, EDINBURGH

You don't know what you're missing. Getting back home alive and in one piece after a ride puts everything into perspective! Go on, give it a go you might like it.

Will you reveal a secret about yourself? JEREMY STANDING, LEICESTER

I don't know you well enough ...