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Tuesday, November 01, 2005 

Blunkett: the new Mandelson.

David Blunkett, former Home Secretary and now Works and Pensions spokesman, appears to be again close to resigning, as once again he is embroiled in allegations of sleaze and conflicts of interest.

Blunkett was first forced to resign in December last year, following his admittance that he may have inadvertently helped "fast-track" his lover's nanny's visa. He denied that he knowingly did anything wrong. He is again pulling the same cover this time, with even less effective results.

David Blunkett now comes across as a sad and lonely man. Blind from birth, a handicap which must be incredibly painful and troublesome in dealing with other politicians as well as former lovers, he overcame his hardship and rose to be touted at one point as a potential prime minister. As Home Secretary, he annoyed the left and delighted the right, cracking down on "yobs" and attacking judges who dared to rule that some of his legislation was in breach of the Human Rights Act. I have previously written that he was the worst Home Secretary of recent times. I stand by that, but it doesn't mean that I don't feel sorry for someone who is now an easy target for the tabloids and poking fun at.

His problems started with his relationship with Kimberley Quinn, publisher of the right-wing Spectator and Telegraph group of newspapers. Quinn has since been exposed as being the Spectator bike, having relationships with at least three other men at the same time. Her reasons for this seem to be that her husband, who is very supportive of her, is either impotent or sterile. Instead she turned to others, with the result being a baby Blunkett, who he was since referred to as "the little lad" and tirelessly attempted to win custody rights to. She has also had another baby, of which her husband is not the father.

This is where the new scandal comes in. In proving his parentage, he came into contact with DNA Bioscience, a private company specialising in paternity tests. After his resignation, Blunkett wasted little time in joining the ex-ministerial gravy train and became a director on at least one other company. On April the 21st, less than 3 weeks away from the general election, he joined the board of the company and bought £15,000 of shares - 3% of its nominal worth. On May the 5th, he was back in the cabinet following Labour's 3rd consecutive victory and the following day he resigned from the board.

The first question arises from why he joined the board for such a short period of time, especially when it was open knowledge that he would be put back into a ministerial position; he himself was boasting about it. The explanation given is that he needed to to buy the shares, and that he was by no means certain that he would become a cabinet memeber again. The first part holds up, the second doesn't. Another reason for this is that he has ran up "mega legal bills" over his court cases attempting to get access to his son, which his salary as a MP and minister supposedly do not cover. It also raises murkiness over his reasons for joining the firm when it was competing for government contracts, especially when his personal problems were such a hot topic.

Even more damning, Blunkett did not seek the advice of the committee for business appointments. His explanation for this is that he thought it was voluntary. While taking the advice the committee gives is voluntary, seeking their advice is mandatory. The Times has since published letters showing the Blunkett was told by Lord Mayhew that he had to consult it about any business dealings when he resigned last December. In short, it seems to be another failure of memory by a man who we've been told before can remember meetings he had in the 70s while head of the Sheffield council with constituents.

Blunkett yesterday promised to sell the shares that he had put in trust for his sons with his ex-wife. It now seems unlikely though that this will be an end to the controversy that he hoped it would be. He has not apologised or admitted doing wrong, simply that he would sell the shares so that there is no issue of a conflict of interest. As the Guardian has said, he has done the least that he had to.

The Daily Mail and News of the Screws have been the foremost in attacking Blunkett. It's alleged that they set-up the honeypot entrapment with Sally Anderson that occurred at Annabel's, with the help of the shameless Max Clifford. He also has been attacked for using Commons headed note paper inappropriately and for keeping his Belgravia apartment he used while Home Secretary, with the agreement of Blair.

Blunkett has been a polarising figure, but now that he has been removed from the position of Home Secretary, despite his arrogant and deeply rhetorical oratory, he has so far not been a bad Works and Pension minister. As Polly Toynbee writes today, he is refusing to bow down to Blair's Tory-baiting benefit reform demands. A lesser minister might well give in to those demands, as might the weakening of his character thanks to the drawn-out press hounding.

Peter Mandelson is famed for resigning twice from the government, both times over scandals. He is also a polarising, some would say hated figure, often referred to as the prince of darkness. Blunkett is in danger of becoming the second Labour minister to fall on his sword twice. He has few friends left, following all his serious misjudgments and criticism which was published in a biography. He should stay works and pension minister for now, complete the green papers for benefit reforms, and then resign. He may need to just to end the tabloid free-for-all and to keep his sanity.

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