A few days ago, Hazel Blears’ spokesman said that she supported “whatever the Prime Minister said”. Who would say that now?
Not everything which pours from Hazel Blears’ mouth is nonsense, and her observation in a recent speech that “brutal, ugly buildings and estates contribute to crime, antisocial behaviour and social exclusion” is quite correct. She made two mistakes.
One is that New Labour has been responsible for plenty of brutal, ugly building, much of it on grass, including former school playing fields. The opposition which it faces to its house-building programme derives largely from the certainty that most of the result will be hideous, as well as badly planned and divorced from the infrastructure which would make the houses work.
The Bouncing Carrot’s other mistake was to pick Blackbird Leys, in Oxford, as one of her examples of estates riddled with crime, antisocial behaviour and social exclusion. There was a time when Blackbird Leys seemed to be on the television news most nights, as youths raced stolen cars up and down its roads and Mr Plod cowered in his bunker. That however, was 17 years ago, and the place is peaceable now – and actually a great deal more pleasant it its environment than anything built or planned under New Labour.
That is in great part due to the MP, Andrew Smith. I was no fan of Mr Smith even before his recent display of Brown-ite hypocrisy (he pledged support for post offices and then voted to close them), but he and his wife have lived on Blackbird Leys for 29 years and have done much to help bring it back from its degraded state. “The Minister should know better”, he said of his Labour Party colleague.
Blears’ timing was not great, as Gordon Brown was due to visit Oxford with Andrew Smith a day or two later and took care to distance himself from Blears’ view. Blackbird Leys had taken “huge steps forward” he said.
The best bit of this story is not the disengagement of Blears’ mouth from her brain, nor the Prime Minister’s rap over the knuckles, but what her office said afterwards. “She supports whatever the Prime Minister has said”.
A busy few days later, I am not sure that any of her cabinet colleagues would want to be quoted giving such blanket endorsement to Gordon Brown. Whilst he may technically still have their jobs in his gift, it begins to look as if the boot may shortly be on the other foot.