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British Labour politician
Born 1956

Hazel Blears has been the Member of Parliament for Salford since 1997. She served as junior minister under Tony Blair during the years 2001 to 2006 and was briefly a member of the cabinet and Labour Party Chair between May 2006 and June 2007. She is currently the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government under Gordon Brown.

Early Life

Hazel Anne Blears was born in Salford on the 14th May 1956, where her father Arthur Blears was a factory fitter working at the local Moore's Bakery. Neither of her parents were politically active, although Arthur was a union man and a shop steward in the Amalgamated Engineering Union and his wife Dorothy worked as a secretary for the Electrical Electronic Telecommunications and Plumbing Union. The most notable event in Hazel's childhood occurred at the age of five when she appeared as an extra in the film version of A Taste of Honey, much of which was filmed on location in Salford. (This does not however make her a 'child actress' in any shape or form as some have claimed, as she only appears briefly in a background shot playing in the street.)

Hazel was educated at the Wardley Grammar School in Swinton and the Eccles Sixth Form College, following which she studied law at the Trent Polytechnic (or Nottingham Trent University as it now calls itself) and the Chester College of Law. She subsequently spent two years as a trainee solicitor working for Salford Council from 1978, and after a year in private practice, returned to the public sector to work for Rossendale Council in 1982. She moved to Wigan Council the next year, and ended up as principal Education Solicitor for Manchester City Council at the age of twenty-nine. As one account puts it, this was "textbook upwardly mobile working class".

Political Career

Hazel later claimed to have undergone some kind of dramatic political conversion at the age of fourteen. The exact details of this event appear uncertain and at various times she has claimed that she "saw a homeless person eating dinner from a rubbish bin" and then became "angry that someone had to live like that" or alternatively that she simply "got angry that people did not get the chances they should have if they come from a poor community".

As it happens she initially chose to channel her anger into her union activities within the National and Local Government Officers Association, and it was not until 1979 that she joined the Labour Party. However within three months of so doing she succeeded in being appointed branch secretary, and according to one contemporary she thereafter became a "ferociously effective networker" who "served on every imaginable committee" as she eagerly pursued a political career. As a result she succeeded in being elected to Salford City Council in 1984 and was also appointed to serve on the Salford Community Health Council.

In her quest to become a member of the House of Commons she first contested Tatton in 1987 standing against Neil Hamilton. Tatton, at least in 1987, was a safe Conservative seat but she was subsequently selected to fight the better prospect of Bury South in the 1992 General Election where no doubt she hoped to get elected, but failed by eight hundred or so votes after three recounts. However her big opportunity soon came when Stanley Orme, former Secretary of State for Social Security and veteran member for her home constituency of Salford, decided to retire and she was chosen as his replacement. Hazel was duly elected at the 1997 General Election, joining the ranks of Blair's Babes.

Government Career

Up to this point Hazel had been regarded as being on the left of the party having been one of the more vocal of the oppponents of Blair's plans to abolish Clause IV. Such radical thoughts were however soon put aside and in 1998 she became Parliamentary Private Secretary to Alan Milburn, then Minister of State at the Department of Health and later Chief Secretary to the Treasury between January and October of 1999.

After the 2001 General Election, she was given her first junior ministerial appointment as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Department of Health(1). Her performance at Health was sufficiently solid to win her promotion in the June 2003 reshuffle, when she was appointed Minister of State at the Home Office(2). There she was responsible for neighbourhood policing and and what New Labour likes to call the Respect Agenda. It was at the Home Office that she apparently impressed David Blunkett who thought she was wonderful - it was Hazel who gave him the 'Can Do' slogan for his ASBO campaign.

Having won admiration for her energy and relentless willingness to accept responsibility, Hazel came to be regarded, as the journalist Michael White put it, a "recognisable starlet in the government firmament". At the May 2006 reshuffle, which came after a set of poor local election results, she was appointed to the cabinet as Minister without Portfolio and Labour Party Chair replacing Ian McCartney. It was at this point that Hazel become, as Matthew Parris described her, "Tony Blair's little ray of sunshine", with the "special responsibilities" of "joy, optimism and compassion". Now a confirmed Blairite she was the ultra-loyal defender of government policy who could be relied upon to cheerfully deliver the agreed message on radio and TV. To her supporters such as David Blunkett she was "very able and articulate" and "driven by a desire to do good", although her detractors claimed to note a tendency to "parrot the message in a machine-like fashion" and believed that she didn't necessarily understand what she was saying half the time.

Labour Party Chair

Hazel had been appointed to the post of Party Chair in the belief that her relentless optimism would help drive the Party forward in its quest to for yet another General Election victory. Questions might have been raised regarding her effectiveness in this role, given that Labour's performance in the 2007 local elections was (if anything) even worse than in 2006, but as it was everyone was distracted by the decisions of both Tony Blair and John Prescott to stand down respectively as Leader and Deputy Leader, triggering elections for their successors.

Hazel had announced her intention to become a candidate for the post of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party as early as the 24th February and it was therefore no surprise when she entered the real contest in May 2007. Her campaign featured T shirts bearing the slogan 'I'm nuts about Hazel' (later hastily withdrawn from sale when it was alleged that said T shirts had been produced by a factory in Bangladesh that used child labour) and beer mats emblazoned with 'Hazel Beers', although she suffered something of a setback when the upper floors of building at Dean Farrar Street in London which housed her campaign office mysteriously collapsed on the 12th June. No one was terribly surpised when she came bottom of the poll held on the 24th June 2007 and was the first of the six candidates to be eliminated from the contest.

In the immediate aftermath of the election her post as Labour Party Chair was given to the new Deputy Leader Harriet Harman, but Hazel remained in the Cabinet and simply exchanged her position as Minister without Portfolio for that of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Oddly enough despite being an ardent Blairite, who many suggested would be dropped by Brown as soon as he had the chance, it is said that Prime Minister Gordon Brown rather admired Hazel for the manner in which she consistently supported the government line throughout her election campaign, unlike many of her competitors, Ms Harman included, who appeared to give the impression that there were certain aspects of policy they actually didn't agree with.


Hazel is married to Michael Halsall and has obviously retained her maiden name for political purposes. She is apparently a bike enthusiast, rides a Benelli and has appeared as "leatherclad cover girl" on Street Biker magazine. She also loves dancing, especially tap dancing, and is a member of the Division Belles, which is dancing troupe of women MPs who make occasional performance for charity. She is also the author of The Politics of Decency (Mutuo 2004), Communities in Control (Fabian Society 2003), Making Health Care Mutual (Mutuo 2002), although there are those who suggest that she had considerable help in writing these works.


NOTES

(1) With responsibility for Health between 2001 and 2002, and then Public Health from 2002 to 2003.
(2) With responsibility for Crime Reduction, Policing, Community Safety and Counter-Terrorism from 2003 to 2005, and then for Policing, Security and Community Safety between 2005 and 2006


SOURCES

  • The offical biography and other information at http://www.hazelblears.co.uk/
  • Michael White, The Guardian profile: Hazel Blears MP, August 5, 2005
    http://politics.guardian.co.uk/labour/story/0,9061,1542999,00.html
  • Profile: Hazel Blears, 24 June 2007 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4977774.stm
  • Profile: Hazel Blears, 16 October, 2002 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2163924.stm
  • Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson, Hazel Blears is Brown's little ray of sunshine 02/07/2007
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/06/30/nblears130.xml

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