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23 May 2008

Blears defends Tory toffs campaign

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears defends Labour's 'Toffs' campaign in Crewe & Nantwich saying all

By Hazel Blears

The result of the Crewe & Nantwich by-election is nothing other than a sound defeat for the Labour Party, and our excellent candidate Tamsin Dunwoody. I congratulate Edward Timpson on his victory, although if the pattern of these kinds of dramatic by-election upsets is anything to go by, his parliamentary career will be short-lived.

The people of this part of Cheshire were sending their government a very strong message, and our job as ministers is to listen, understand and act. From the time I spent in the constituency it was clear to me that trepidation about the economy was the big factor. The media obsession with political personalities was not reflected on the streets and estates of Crewe. People were concerned about the rising price of petrol and food, and expressed their concerns on the doorsteps. In these turbulent economic times, I understand perfectly why people want to send the Government a message. Although much of the economic pressures have been created abroad, especially in the USA, people want answers from their government.

So what I took away from Crewe is a strong sense of determination to address the core issue of the economy. That’s what people want from Labour right now – a relentless focus on the issues that affect their wallets and purses. The last thing people want is the spectacle of a Labour Party looking inwards, engaging in blame and recrimination, and looking like we’re more concerned for our own jobs and prospects than those of the public. It was internal division and rancour that hobbled the last Tory Government under John Major just as surely as Black Wednesday, three million unemployed, record interest rates, and all those Tory ministers resigning in disgrace after financial and sexual scandals.

What does the hour demand? Action to stabilise the housing market, and that means building more houses for first-time buyers and key workers. Tough measures to control inflation, by taking some unpopular decisions on public sector pay. An economic package to put right the mistake of the 10p tax changes. And in the longer-term – decisions to safeguard our energy supply, deal with pensions, an Australian-style points system for immigration, and tackle to tackle global warming. Only the Labour Party has the right values, policies and leadership team to pursue this kind of agenda. From the Tories we only get shallow salesmanship, not substantive policy ideas.

Was it wrong to run the stunts on ‘Tory Toffs’ in Crewe? The fact is in a by-election all parties run stunts. They may not be elegant or subtle, but they have their place in the frenzy of a political campaign. My view is that we are all products of our backgrounds, whether we’re from Eton or Salford. Our experiences form our values and approaches to life. So in a by-election it is right that we should point out the different political values and backgrounds of the candidates. Labour’s campaign team fought an energetic and robust campaign, and I am proud of them all, especially the young volunteers who worked so hard.

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Lastly, does Crewe mean that Cameron should start measuring up for curtains at Number Ten? Perhaps he should have a word with Neil Kinnock about whether big by-election wins lead inevitably to general election victories.

Rt. Hon. Hazel Blears MP