Hazel Anne Blears (whose date of birth is 14th May 1956) was a British politician who represented the Labour Party. Between 2010 and 2015 she was the MP for Salford and Eccles, and before that was MP for Salford from 1997. In the period 2006 to 2007 she was Minister without Portfolio in the Cabinet, following which she held the position of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government until 2009, at which time she resigned from the government. She is perhaps best known in popular culture for her involvement in the MPs expenses scandal in 2009. Interestingly, throughout her parliamentary career, she has been referred to by her nickname “Chipmunk”, and occasionally the “Iron Chipmunk”, in reference to the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s nickname “The Iron Lady”.
Her Education, Early Life and Marriage
Born in 1956 in Salford, Lancashire, Hazel Blears had humble beginnings as a maintenance fitter’s daughter. An interesting fact about her early life was her appearance in the ground breaking movie “A Taste of Honey” in 1961 alongside her brother Stephen in the role of a street urchin when she was just five years old. She received her education at the Worsley Wardley Grammar School and then went on to study at Eccles College. She graduated from Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham with a BA (Hons) in Law and then in 1977 attended the Chester College of Law. In 1989, Blears married Michael Halsall, another solicitor, however the couple have no children. Among her interests, Blears includes motorcycling and tap dancing, having once been a member of the Division Belles, a tap dancing troupe made up of parliamentary members.
Hazel Blears’ Law Career
Before embarking on her parliamentary career, Hazel Blears started her working life at Salford City Council as a trainee solicitor in 1978. In 1980 she moved into private practice and then went to work as a solicitor for Rossendale Borough Council in 1981 when she was also elected to the position of NALGO’s Branch Secretary. During 1983 she took a role as a solicitor with Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council and eventually became education solicitor for Manchester City Council. It was in 1984 that she was chosen to be a councillor for Salford City Council – a position that she held until 1992.
Her Ministerial and Parliamentary Career
Hazel Blears’ first forays into her parliamentary career were not especially successful, having lost by 788 votes in the Bury South constituency in 1992. However in the general election in 1997 she succeeded in being elected as the MP for the Labour Party in Salford. She was rapidly promoted to the position of Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department of Health’s Minister of State, Alan Milburn and subsequently to Andrew Smith, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Her national profile was boosted by her position as deputy head of the Labour Party campaign team which played a major role in country-wide campaigns during the months leading up to the 2001 General Election. Between 2001 and 2003, she held responsibility for Public Health under Tony Blair’s government and has been credited with initiating the “5 a day” campaign designing with the aim of encouraging a higher consumption of fruit and vegetables. In 2003, she then moved into the Home Office, focusing on counter terrorism, crime reduction and policing methods before becoming a member of the Privy Council in 2005. Following the general election in 2010, Blears found that her consistuency was going to be abolished, but she succeeded in being elected to represent the constituency of Salford and Eccles which had been created in its place. She resigned from the government in 2015.
The 2009 Expenses Scandal
Hazel Blears is best known for her involvement in the 2009 expenses scandal as revealed by The Telegraph newspaper. She was revealed to be one of the MPs who had claimed the maximum amount of expenses permitted within a pound, covering a range of outrageous claims including those for:
· 3 properties
· hotel stays
· £4,874 on furnishings
· £899 for a new bed
· £913 for a TV set (the second within a year)
· £400 per month for food and groceries
This caused outrage amongst the public, especially as she was never prosecuted. Not only that, but she was revealed to have failed to pay capital gains tax on the profits made from selling her London flat. While the property had been registered as her primary residence with HMRC, she had been claiming the MPs second home allowance for this flat and had made a profit of £45,000 on the sale. In order to mitigate the situation, Blears volunteered to pay back the £13,332 in capital gains tax that she owed, yet this was not enough for protesters in her home town of Salford, leading to her having to stay in a hotel rather than in her home.