By Pamela Welsh in salford and Kunal Dutta
Hazel Blears future as a Labour party MP was in serious doubt last night as she fought calls for her deselection at an extended meeting in her home constituency that attracted angry constituents and disgruntled union members.
Attending a meeting of the Salford Constituency Labour party, where local members were set to vote on a resolution to deselect her ahead of the next election, the former Communities Secretary was made to enter the Salford Civic Centre through a side door, avoiding chants from angry residents and unions that had gathered outside calling for her resignation.
More than 40 protestors had gathered outside, including union Unite, whose branch secretary, Ray Walker branded Ms Blear's behaviour "morally and ethically disgusting". Under the gloomy Manchester skies, a range of placards on display included a picture of Ms Blears with a criminal identity number, others with her pushing a wheelbarrow of cash and slogans that included: "The gravy train stops here, Hazel." The meeting was still in progress an hour after the time it was scheduled to finish.
Ms Blears angered party workers by walking out of the Cabinet on the eve of the local elections, after voluntarily paying £13,000 to the taxman last after it emerged she had "dual declared" to avoid capital gains on a taxpayer-funded home.
Her decision was described as a "body blow" for the party and inadvertently may have led to BNP success at the polls as Labour's traditional vote, reeling from the expenses and her Cabinet walkout, failed to turn out to vote.
Other revelations included her reportedly making £80,000 on the sale of two taxpayer-subsidised properties without paying capital gains tax, a move that prime minister Gordon Brown condemned as "totally unacceptable." Ms Blears claimed costs towards both, at different times, on her taxpayer-funded expenses before selling them for a combined profit, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Yesterday David Henry, 24, a youth worker for Salford Youth Council was outside the Salford Civic Centre while the meeting was in progress. Clutching a pair of handcuffs, he said: "She's a liar and a thief and she needs to be brought to justice." Another elderly resident who did not want to be named said: "That woman has brought us nothing but trouble since she was elected. We want her out. She has done nothing for the people of this city."
One of the protest organisers, Stephen Kingston, 50, had been petitioning for Ms Blear's resignation in Salford precinct earlier in the day. "In the space of an hour-and-a-half we had 250 signatures backing the call that she must go," she said. "The feelings of people are absolutely phenomenal. If she is not deselected tonight I think this campaign will go on."
Ms Blears, the MP for Salford since 1997, has since apologised for her Cabinet walkout, saying she made an error of judgment over her timing. But she insisted her resignation, which was followed by a string of fellow Cabinet members, was not part of a plot to oust the Prime Minister.