Odd timing, you might think. Blears herself has noted that this is the lowest point of her political career, and there is good reason for this. But, the campaign against her is indicative of the rot at Westminster – the tribal political urges that only ever lead politics into the mire.
Blears flipped her home three times. For a while she wondered what it’d be like to live in a boutique hotel in Clerkenwell. At £211 a night, presumably it was pretty good. There’s no denying that she stretched her expense allowances.
The 17% who voted for the BNP in a recent by-election in her constituency no doubt agree. The polling figures look even worse when you contrast 606 Labour votes for 276 to the BNP. There was only a 17.5% turnout so we can assume many felt the same as is being said up and down the country – that there’s no-one to vote for and major parties can’t be trusted. Listen to John Pienaar’s podcast this week as an indicator of public opinion: pavement political reporting at its best.
Yet public opinion is, as usual, being manipulated – both by the press and those they require connections with. ‘Smeargate’ – the Damien McBride emails – exposed the government’s way of dealing with the press. It did not cure it. Despite both Geoff Hoon and James Purnell avoiding capital gains tax on the sale of their homes – furnished at taxpayer’s expense – they have had an easy time of late. So too has Alastair Darling, who flipped his second home but lived in a grace-and-favour pad. Why the focus on Blears?
Because Blears brought it upon herself. She dared to criticise Gordon Brown in the Observer and knew the consequences of this. First, she damaged Gordon Brown’s credibility. After all, the phrase ‘YouTube if you want to’ was very witty and bound to stick, although if anyone thinks Brown’s disastrously comic video was anything other than an absolute failure, they mustn’t have seen it. Do please see below.
Second, she angered the Brownite cabal which was never enamoured with Blears the Blairite. The group of advisors surrounding Brown have always been effective at dispatching political enemies and excel at party infighting. Think of Charlie Whelan, Brown’s former press secretary, briefing the press against Blair’s plans to join the Euro outside the Red Lion pub with a lager in one hand and a phone in the other. Think of the number of Labour MPs who claimed they’d been victim to McBride’s smear campaigning, like Ivan Lewis who spoke out against Brown and the consequent headline ‘txt pest’ in the News of the World, courtesy of Downing Street’s press team.
Iain Dale blogged quite recently that No. 10 were lining up for a ‘Chipmunk cull‘. He appears to have been right – but don’t be fooled: if Blears goes, the spotlight most likely will shift to Hoon and Purnell. Neither have attempted to pay back capital gains tax, despite the precedent Blears has set. If the press sense a victory in pushing out Blears and also Jacqui Smith, they’ll start to see who else they can get.
This all goes to show how fickle ‘the media’, and by that I mostly mean the dead tree press, can be. Have we forgotten Martin Kettles paean to Blears in The Guardian just a few weeks ago? He seized upon her as the next Thatcher, a symbol around which a desperate Labour party could unite. Firing Hazel Blears may seem like a good choice to Brown, but he’ll lose yet another well known Labour figure at a time when The Economist believes both parties should bring out their ‘big beasts’ (spelt that wrong first time, was thinking purely of Ken Clarke).
Brown should at least be attacking the opposition if he refuses to work with them. His big pitch at present is to try to appear above politics, hence his Youtube appeals straight the the country. But Brown is a tribalist at heart, and that is the most damaging, damning allegation one can make against him. Tribal politics have never achieved anything except bringing people and parties down. This time, Labour will suffer.
UPDATE 3.39PM: I see Caroline Flint agrees with me. Has she been reading JCPR? [this blog]