Guardian Q&A with Hazel Blears

George Binning

Prior to the John Smith Memorial Debate, Hazel Blears enjoyed a drink with the Glasgow University Labour Club and took time to speak with Guardian.

Have you always been politically active?

Yes, I first got involved through my trade union; I joined my union before I joined the Labour party. I was a shop steward, a safety rep, and then I got involved with lots of community groups and campaigned to get a law centre in my community.

In those days we had a Tory government so I was organising the march for jobs, protesting, doing all the things young people do.

Then I joined the Labour party and somebody said to me: ‘Have you ever thought about being a councillor?’  So I was a councillor for eight years in Salford, my own city, and had a fantastic time getting things done.
And then somebody said: ‘Have you ever thought about standing for parliament?’ and this is what happens to you in life: you end up in the Cabinet!

Speaking to the Labour Club you referred to the House of Commons as predominantly old, white, middle class and male. How long do you think it will take to achieve a more representative parliament?

Well, it’s just about a hundred years since women started getting the vote and I hope it doesn’t take another hundred years to get some kind of equality. I think it is getting better.

“We have got a number of MPs from different ethnic backgrounds; we‘ve got five Muslim MPs, but we haven’t yet got a Muslim woman MP, and I’m hoping that Rushnara Ali, who’s our candidate up in East London, will actually be the first, which is fantastic.

But I think we have a way to go, and I really want to see more young people in parliament because the world is changing so fast now which means having people with contemporary experience is really important.

Gordon Brown today dismissed speculation of a summer election, will he call the election as late as possible?

I wouldn’t dream of speculating on when we will have an election. The task in hand now is helping people through what is a very difficult financial situation and I can genuinely tell you this: the whole of the Government is completely focussed on keeping a roof over people’s heads, keeping them in their jobs and making sure they get through. It’s not the time for election talk.

But Northern Rock’s rate of repossessions has doubled since its nationalisation in February, and is 50% ahead of any of its market competitors on this front. How is this conducive to “keeping a roof over people’s heads”?

It’s not good at all, and people are very worried. But it is a lot less than in the recession in the early ‘90s. That’s why I have brought forward a program of £1 billion both to build more social housing for rent, but also to make sure we can help people with their mortgages over this next year or so, so we don’t see people getting repossessed and out on the streets.

In June 2007, Hazel Blears was appointed Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.


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