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Wednesday, November 02, 2005 

Blunkett becomes Blair's sacrificial lamb.

David Blunkett's decision to resign today has been rather convenient for Blair. Blunkett has claimed that his decision to step down came as he travelled from Downing Street from a previous meeting with Blair to Portcullis House for a scheduled select committee meeting, despite Blair apparently asking him to stay at that meeting. He then returned to Downing Street and tendered his resignation.

For Blair though, this apparent course of events has been nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Firstly it meant he didn't have to go through a whole session of Prime Minister's Questions entirely dealing with Blunkett, and it also has took the story away from cabinet disagreements and from today's revelations that Blair appears to be agreeing with George Bush that economic growth is more important than the health of the planet. While he faced a reasonably effective Michael Howard, being attacked by someone who is no longer leader was never going to cause him much damage.

Blunkett probably made the right decision, benefits for Blair or not. He may have jumped before even worse allegations were uncovered. He is also now free to sort himself out. He has become the opposite of what he most likely originally thought of himself: a man who raised the red flag above Sheffield town hall, now more happy to be associated with the Spectator set and seen in high society places such as Annabel's. More happily for those of us who despise Max Clifford, he has promised to persue him and expose his lies. Whether this whole affair was Blunkett's fault or not is also uncertain. Devastated by the severance and way he was treated by Kimberley Quinn, he was brought back much too quickly by Blair, who misjudged his ability to cope with his personal crisis. There was however no way that he could he remain in the cabinet, if what Blair said in 1997 in the aftermath of the Tory sleaze years was applied consistently. He said that ministers had to "act within the letter and spirit" of the code of conduct. Blunkett clearly did not. I still would have liked to seen him finish his tasks before resigning; it now remains to be seen whether John Hutton, his replacement, will continue to reject Blair's demands for a macho stance on incapicity benefit reforms.

What will be most interesting now will be to see whether Blunkett again instantly takes up positions in the private sector. That may well be the litmus test of whether he has learned his lesson. His career is by no means totally dead, for while Peter Mandelson was not returned to the cabinet for a third time, Blair found him a job as trade secretary at the EU instead. Blair might be able to find similar for Blunkett. Whether he will retain his grace and favour house in Belgravia, as before, remains to be seen.

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