Blears: Labour is not dead yet

Hazel Blears says voters still prefer Labour to the Tories
Hazel Blears says voters still prefer Labour to the Tories

Labour may be experiencing difficulties but British voters are not yet calling for a change of government, Hazel Blears has insisted.

The party's chairwoman said the fact that David Cameron's Conservatives were leading the opinion polls was simply part of the "natural rhythm of government".

But she insisted that Labour backbench criticism of John Prescott and speculation about when Tony Blair might step down must end, noting: "The only winners when Labour people scrap are the Tories."

In an article in today's Guardian, Ms Blears said she did not expect voters to give the government an "easy ride" after nine years in power, and they were rightly sceptical.

"No government should be free from proper scrutiny. People should be ambitious for change. But most still want Labour to succeed. They know we are basically on their side. And they don't want the Tories back," she said.

She was writing after a tough few months for Labour, where news of rising NHS deficits, chaos in the immigration and prison system, the loss of 300 council seats in the local elections and the questionable behaviour of some ministers have hit the party hard.

The headlines have coincided with a reinvention of the Tory party under Mr Cameron, and the latest polls, from YouGov and ICM, have put Conservatives on 38 per cent of the vote, and Labour on 32 per cent and 34 per cent respectively.

"I know that this is a tough time to be a Labour supporter," Ms Blears acknowledged.

"Some people are angry with us on specific issues such as Iraq or tuition fees; others are frustrated by what they feel is a lack of progress on issues that they care about, such as education or crime.

"But I do not believe that the country is at a tipping point between governing parties. This is not 1945, 1979 or 1997. Despite the current poll leads for the Conservatives, I do not get a sense that Britain is desperate for a change of government."

Ms Blears said a key task of the party in the coming months was to remind voters that despite Mr Cameron's rhetoric on the environment and social justice, he was simply "saying whatever it takes to get the Tories back into power".

But she concluded: "We must demonstrate that Labour is different from the Tories, that our values and our instincts are different. We are not simply a competing brand, but represent a distinct political and moral tradition.

"We need to continue to dominate the centre ground of politics, forcing the Tories on to the extremes - where most of them are quite comfortable."


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