Hazel Blears launched a desperate bid to rescue her political career yesterday, giving a wide-ranging apology for criticising the Prime Minister and resigning from the Cabinet on the eve of European and local elections.
The former Communities Secretary's apology comes amid attempts from within her local party to deselect her as their candidate in the safe Labour seat of Salford. She will face a vote of no confidence next week.
In her first interview since leaving the Government, Ms Blears said she had thought she could leave her post "without it sparking off this huge firestorm", but admitted the move cost her party votes. "In hindsight that judgement was wrong," she told the Manchester Evening News. "I should have waited until after the election. The effect on the party is something I will live with forever." Labour's support collapsed to its lowest level in almost a century in the European ballot, falling below 16 per cent.
Rebels backing attempts to dethrone Gordon Brown as Labour's leader also hit out at her poor timing. Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, blamed her resignation for scuppering the plot by creating resentment among many Labour MPs and failing to co-ordinate her announcement with other ministers. "The resignation of Hazel before polling day created a lot of bad feeling that was around," Mr Clarke told the BBC's Straight Talk programme.
"There wasn't an organisation there in that sense and that's why it happened," he said. "I'm sure that Hazel's decision reflected whatever conversations she's had with the Prime Minister."
The Salford MP described her criticism of Mr Brown's appearance on YouTube as "thoughtless and quite cruel" and deeply regretted the jibe. "I thought it was clever – it was too clever by half," she said. "I only realised later how hurtful it was." She also admitted that wearing a brooch bearing the words "rocking the boat" on the day of her resignation had been "a stupid thing to do".
Ms Blears fell out with the Prime Minister after he described her failure to pay capital gains tax on the sale of a second home as "totally unacceptable". She said she had to step down as her position was "not tenable". But she added she did not discuss her decision with cabinet colleagues and was not part of a broader attempt to remove Mr Brown as leader. However, Mr Clarke added that Labour could yet have a new leader at the next election if Mr Brown fails to turn the party's fortunes around. "[If] electorally we do badly, then the issue will still be there," he said.
The Government admitted last night that another minister would soon be leaving. Lord Carter, the communications minister, will step down over the Summer recess. He made it clear on taking the job that he was "not a politician" and had been recruited specifically to produce the Digital Britain report, which will be published next week.