Hazel Blears to step down as MP

The Oxford Times: Hazel Blears is to stand down as an MP at next year's general election. Hazel Blears is to stand down as an MP at next year's general election.

Labour's former minister Hazel Blears is to stand down as an MP at next year's general election.

Ms Blears entered Parliament as MP for Salford in 1997, served as a minister in the Department of Health and Home Office and as chair of the Labour Party under Tony Blair between 2001 and 2007, before joining Gordon Brown's cabinet as communities and local government secretary from 2007 to 2009.

She resigned from the government on the eve of crucial European and local elections in 2009 in what was seen at the time as an indication of Blairite discontent with Mr Brown's leadership, and went on to win the Salford and Eccles constituency in 2010 after boundaries were redrawn.

In a statement after informing her local constituency party, Ms Blears said she had taken the decision to stand down after 18 years in Parliament with "a heavy heart".

She said she wants to spend more time with her family, including her mother Dorothy, who has dementia, her father Arthur, who is his wife's main carer, and her husband Michael.

"It is a huge privilege to represent the place where I was born, brought up and have lived all my life, so I have taken this decision with a heavy heart," said Ms Blears.

"I would like to thank everyone who has supported me over the years and it goes without saying that whoever is chosen as Labour's election candidate will have my wholehearted support."

Labour leader Ed Miliband paid tribute on Twitter: "Hazel Blears has been a brilliant MP. Always fighting for those in most need. Parliament will miss her."

Ms Blears secured Salford and Eccles with a comfortable majority of 5,725 in 2010 and it is likely to be a tempting prospect for would-be MPs seeking a safe Labour seat to fight in the election scheduled for May 7 2015.

When details of MPs' expense claims were leaked in 2009, Ms Blears was widely criticised for failing to pay capital gains tax on the sale of a flat which she had previously designated her second home - something which Mr Brown described at the time as "totally unacceptable".

She repaid more than £13,000 and apologised, but insisted that she had not broken the rules. After a later audit of MPs' expenses, she was asked to repay just £225.

Coming from a working-class background in Salford, Ms Blears, 57, was the first person in her family to go on to higher education when she took a law degree at Trent Polytechnic. She later qualified as a solicitor and worked in local government until being elected to Parliament. As a child, she appeared as an extra in hit 1961 film A Taste Of Honey.

As health minister she introduced the "five-a-day" healthy eating campaign and as communities secretary negotiated the first city deals to devolve more powers to local councils.

In her statement announcing her plans to leave Parliament, she highlighted her work securing investment for her constituency - including lobbying for the BBC to locate in Salford - and promoting Clare's Law, which gives people a right to ask police if their partners have a record of domestic violence and was named after one of her constituents who was murdered by her partner.

"I have been driven throughout my time as MP by a desire to improve people's lives and ensure that Salford gets its fair share of resources and investment," said Ms Blears.

"No one person has a magic wand with which to do this, but I have worked hard alongside some fantastic leaders, organisations and residents and I feel that together we have really made a difference.

"When I look around me now and think back to 1997 I can honestly say I am proud that our city is in a much better place now than it was back then.

"Of course, we still face significant challenges, and the Government's cuts are really hurting some people.

"But I am confident that whoever takes on the fight can keep this seat for Labour next year and help to continue to steer us through these difficult times to a bright future."

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