Blears accused of hypocrisy after joining protest over hospital closure

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Hazel Blears, the Labour Party chairwoman, has been accused of hypocrisy after she joined picket lines to protest against a threat to close her local maternity services.

Ms Blears, a cabinet minister and ultra-loyal Blairite, defended her right to protest, and denied it was part of her battle to hold on to a seat against neighbouring Labour MPs after boundary changes.

But critics said she had supported closures elsewhere to end NHS deficits. She also held a private meeting with Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, to prepare for the political battle against the Tories over NHS "hot spots".

The accusations are likely to kill hopes she had of running for Labour's deputy leadership, which she was not ruling out yesterday.

Health union campaigners at Health Emergency accused her of a classic case of "not in my backyard".

"If the closure of maternity services is wrong in Salford, it is wrong in all those other parts of the country as well and Blears should be piling on pressure to ditch the cuts policy or she should resign," said the head of campaigns, Geoff Martin.

She got little support from Labour colleagues. Kevin Barron, the Labour chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, said: "We are all expected to toe the line."

Ms Blears said: "I am doing my job which is representing local people on this. There are now several stages in the process before this is concluded. Therefore it's perfectly proper for me to do this."

Ms Blears said her position was tenable "because otherwise you would be saying to every minister in this country that you do not have a role in representing the people who elected you".

She said her cabinet colleagues John Reid and Jacqui Smith, the Labour chief whip, took part in similar protests in their own constituencies. "I am not campaigning against cabinet policy," she said.

The shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said maternity services were bearing the brunt of cuts to reduce NHS deficits. The Liberal Democrat health spokesman, Norman Lamb, said: "You cannot back a policy on the national stage and then campaign against it in your own constituency."

The maternity unit at Salford's Hope Hospital is planned to close as part of a reorganisation of mothers' and children's services agreed earlier this month by Primary Care Trusts in Greater Manchester.