On the Politics Show, Sunday 25 February 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed the Labour Party Chair, Hazel Blears MP
JON SOPEL: And for her first TV interview, she joins us now on the Politics Show. Welcome to the Politics Show.
HAZEL BLEARS: Good afternoon.
JON SOPEL: I suppose I should say, welcome to the race as well. Are you the Blairite candidate?
HAZEL BLEARS: Well, what I am is the candidate that believes we should build on our success over the last ten years.
I think we've got a great record, but also, I think the changes ahead are going to be more complex than they were ten years ago and I think that combination that we had in 1997 of saying that you can have a really efficient economy and at the same time, you can pursue social justice and look after the poorest people, that was a fantastic analysis of our Labour Party and I think we have to hold on to that, look at some of the new challenges, they are more complex - that are coming up in front of us over the next ten years. I want us to make the next ten years Labour years and therefore I think that we need to build on our success.
JON SOPEL: So you would be happy to be described as a Blairite candidate.
HAZEL BLEARS: Well I supported the Prime Minister who I thinks been a fantastic Prime Minister. I work very closely with Gordon Brown. I work with the whole of the Cabinet. I've always felt that the Labour Party is not a one man or a one woman band; the Labour Party is a brilliant team of people and I think in this Deputy Leadership contest, you will see that there are half a dozen people with skills and talents in our Party, that we can showcase over the next few months, and I think that will give us a real spring board for future success, I really do.
JON SOPEL: I don't want to get hung up on the titles, but there was a time when a Labour person would have been thrilled to be described as Blairite, because it - you know they were being associated with the winning team. I just wonder whether it is seen a bit more maybe as a handicap now?
HAZEL BLEARS: Well I, I think it's really dangerous erm if we actually distance ourselves from what we've been doing over the last ten years.
If you think about it, in America, Al Gore kind of tried to put a bit of distance between himself and Clinton and what people did was they voted for George Bush. What I don't want us to do is to distance ourselves from all the good things that we've done over the last ten years, because I do think we've got a really good record.
Because my concern is that people then might, you know, see David Cameron and his Tories, as a bit more interesting. If people think that we're saying, well, we didn't get it all right, then I think they'll take a pretty dim view of us. I mean we, we haven't got everything right, but I think overall the record on health, on education, on tackling crime, all of that is pretty successful.
JON SOPEL: That's a very interesting point. Are you suggesting maybe that Gordon is doing that from Tony.
HAZEL BLEARS: Oh, not at all, no, no. I mean Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, the architects of our new Labour proposition, about an efficient economy, and that's the way that you can tackle social justice, and that's what I think we have to build on. As I say, I think some of the challenges, if you look at climate change, you look at the challenge to the economy from India and China, these are things that we weren't thinking about ten years ago.
And I think a serious political party needs to come up with the policies that says to the vast majority of British people, 'we can help you succeed'. 'Cos that was key as well. In 1997, you know Labour was the party of success, of aspiration, of ambition and I think, you know, we vacate that ground at our peril.
JON SOPEL: Yeah. I mean Peter Hain seemed to describe you this morning as the 'More of the Same Candidate'. Are you happy with that badge.
HAZEL BLEARS: No, er, what I'm happy with is the person who says, we've got a great record. We've made significant progress over the last ten years. We've still got a lot more to do and it's not more of the same, because as I say, the challenges are different, but actually that underlying analysis, that you are in touch with ordinary working people, you are on their side.
If you look at the economy for example - the kind of jobs we're going to need in the future, if we're going to compete with India and China are going be high skill, high tech, high wage jobs. That means now you've got to be talking to people in their early teens and younger about what kind of skills they're going to need to get those jobs. That's what I mean by being in touch and on the side of, of those families.
JON SOPEL: But a lot of the candidates seem to be moving to the left. I mean I wonder how you would characterise the race for the Deputy leadership as it is at the moment - the different camps.
HAZEL BLEARS: Well, what I think we've got as I say is a range of people out there who've got a lot of expertise and in different areas, and they've also got a lot of experience. Myself, I was a Home Office Minister for three years, I dealt with policing, counter-terrorism after 7/7, I've been a Health Minister, you've got a whole range of talents here. I actually think that rather than having one or two people to choose from, the fact that the Labour Party is able to throw up half a dozen people at the top of our movement, who are capable of taking this on, is actually a testament to what we've achieved.
JON SOPEL: Okay, now let's talk about the Membership because you've talked about them feeling overlooked. What does that mean.
HAZEL BLEARS: Well I think if you haven't got a Labour MP and you're in a constituency, maybe you haven't got very many Labour councillors, then the only information that you tend to get about the Labour Party is maybe from the newspapers or on the television, and I think there's a big job of work to do for all of us as Minister and MPs, to go out to those places where members are, you know they're flying the Labour Party flag, sometimes in very difficult circumstances, and when you're in your third term and you are doing some difficult things, then explaining and having a dialogue with members is really important.
JON SOPEL: Well let's take a current issue, I don't know, Trident. A lot of the grass roots membership oppose renewing Trident. Are you going to be in there as Deputy Leader, pitching against it because you're going to be saying, 'this is what the grass roots want and they don't want to renew Trident.'
HAZEL BLEARS: Well if you look at what's happened in the last couple of months, we've got more than twenty events, right across the country when party members can come, discuss policy with Ministers.
We had an event just three weeks ago with Des Browne, where it was our national policy forum, which brings together members from all over the country, he did two and a half hours of detailed, questions and answers, scrutiny, dialogue with the Party. I think a mature political party, particularly in government, have to make sure you keep in touch, you're constantly having dialogue about these kind of controversial issues.
JON SOPEL: Oh of course.
HAZEL BLEARS: Absolutely.
JON SOPEL: But what do you do. What do you do if the grass roots say, well actually, I've listened to the two and half hours from Des Browne, we still believe that Trident is wrong. Is your job as Deputy Leader, to represent that in Cabinet?
HAZEL BLEARS: What you've got to do as Deputy Leader and I've said this very clearly, is you have got to be the voice of the members at the Cabinet table.
JON SOPEL: Ah.
HAZEL BLEARS: That voice is not going to be exclusively heard. You've then got the whole range of government coming together, but you have a distinctive voice, which is about Party members, it's about people in the trade unions, it's about people on the streets, and you bring to the Cabinet, views of what people are feeling. But in relation to Trident, this whole issue was discussed before our last manifesto, in the National Policy Forum, and a view was taken that we should retain our independent nuclear deterrent. So we have proper policy making processes in the party. I think they need to be strengthened as well.
JON SOPEL: So you wouldn't be the voice of opposition then in the Cabinet, even though you felt the membership were absolutely in that position.
HAZEL BLEARS: Well that's not my experience of our party membership. Our party membership sometimes has some very strongly held views, but they understand that if you're going to have a Labour government in power, sometimes you have to make tough and difficult decisions, but I'll tell you this, people in the Labour Party over the last ten years have seen what a Labour government can do, and if you're out of power, you can't improve hospitals, you can't improve schools, you can't er, get the two and a half million extra jobs we've got in the economy. Labour people are pretty sensible on the whole.
JON SOPEL: Now, John Prescott, when he became Deputy Leader used a very vivid metaphor to describe it - he said, Tony Blair is the train driver, but I'm the guard and I can if I don't like where we're going, I have the power to pull the communication cord. Do you think you've, if Gordon Brown is the train driver, got the power to bring Gordon Brown to a shuddering halt.
HAZEL BLEARS: Well I don't think I want to bring my government to a shuddering halt at all. What I do want to do is to make sure that we've got a balanced team, that we've got people with complementary skills. I do think there's this issue about, you know, do you have a man and a woman at the top of your party. I don't think you should have a woman simply for her own sake. But I think in a modern political party, people like to see men and women working together, solving problems. It happens in business life, it happens in most people's working life.
JON SOPEL: What would your relationship be with Gordon Brown? Could you stop Gordon Brown?
HAZEL BLEARS: Well my relationship with Gordon Brown is extremely good, and I think that you know, the policies that he would want to pursue will be about improving our economy, giving people better chances for the future. That's exactly what I want to make sure happens. What I'm really ? (interjection)
JON SOPEL: So you could pull, you could pull that emergency cord and say 'stop Gordon, you can't do this'.
HAZEL BLEARS: Well I don't think our government is in the business of, of being you know, careering ahead without thinking about all the implications, without getting it absolutely right. You know we've got ten years experience here and this is a bit of a contrast between us and the Tories. We've got an experienced, mature government, who have had to make some pretty tough decisions, but actually you look round that Cabinet table and you have got a lot of skills. And I do think that this isn't simply again about individuals and personalities, it's about getting the policies absolutely right.
JON SOPEL: Okay and you talk about that experience, and here you are, sitting in the Cabinet as the Party Chair and you're also running for the Deputy Leadership. You can't reconcile that can you, surely you need to quit as Party Chair if you're going run for the Deputy Leadership?
HAZEL BLEARS: Certainly not. I've been given a job to do by the Prime Minister, which is basically to lead our fight in the elections, in Scotland, in Wales, in local government, over the next couple of months and I said yesterday at my launch, that my focus now, until May 3rd, will be about taking that fight to the Tories and to the Liberal Democrats and to the nationalists, and I think that has to be our absolute priority, for the next couple of months and that is absolutely what I mean to get on and do. The one thing I don't want to see? (interjection)
JON SOPEL: But here you are, sitting with us and we're delighted to have you here on the Politics Show, talking about your campaign for the Deputy Leadership at the same time as you're the Labour Party Chair. Now, you're going to be doing both simultaneously aren't you.
HAZEL BLEARS: No, I said very clearly yesterday that my focus for the next couple of months will be on winning those elections for Labour. I want to see Labour representatives, particularly in local councils and in Scotland and in Wales because as I said to you before, if you're not in power and you don't have the ability to do the things the public wants us to carrying on doing, and that is absolutely what I will be getting on with in the next couple of months. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Despite all the muttering from the other camps that they're not happy about you staying in those twin roles.
HAZEL BLEARS: Well I, I don't think that that will be an issue at all. I think people will be absolutely happy. You know, everybody has got the same rules to abide by in this contest and I think every candidate will be abiding by those rules and getting on with their jobs in exactly the same way as I'll be getting on with mine.
JON SOPEL: Okay, Hazel Blears, thanks very much indeed.
HAZEL BLEARS: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW
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The Politics Show Sunday 04 March 2007 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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