David Blunkett

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David Blunkett

The Right Honourable David Blunkett, PC (born June 6, 1947) is a British Labour Party politician. He was Education Secretary from 1997 to 2001, and Home Secretary from 2001 to 2004. Following the 2005 General Election he was appointed to the position of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Contents

Early life

Born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, he grew up in poverty after his father was killed following an industrial accident. Blind since birth, and educated at schools for the blind in Sheffield and Shrewsbury, his chances in life seemed limited. Indeed, he was apparently told at school that one of his few options in life was to become a lathe operator. Nevertheless, he won a place at the University of Sheffield, and went on to enter local politics immediately on graduation.

Rise in politics

Blunkett became the youngest-ever councillor on Sheffield City Council at the age of 22. He became well-known as a figure on the soft left of the party whilst serving for seven years as the council's leader during the 1980s, and was elected to the Labour Party's National Executive Committee.

At the 1987 general election he was elected MP for Sheffield Brightside. He became a party spokesman on local government, joined the shadow cabinet in 1992 as Shadow Health Secretary, and became Shadow Education Secretary in 1994. Combining reforming zeal with social conservatism, he became a favourite of new party leader Tony Blair.

As Education Secretary

After Labour's landslide victory in the 1997 general election, he became the UK's first blind cabinet minister as Secretary of State for Education and Employment. The role of Education Secretary was a vital one in a government whose Prime Minister had in 1996 described his priorities as "education, education, education", and which had made reductions in school class sizes a key pledge. In the event it was higher education that proved to be the most controversial issue for Blunkett, as he moved towards the imposition of tuition fees at public universities which had traditionally been free.

As Home Secretary

At the start of the Labour government's second term in 2001, Blunkett was promoted to become Home Secretary, a long-term ambition of his.

Appearing to be tough on immigration and asylum was a central issue for Blunkett during his time at the Home Office. In December 2001, he controversially called for immigrants to develop a greater "sense of belonging" to Britain. In April 2002, he proposed new powers which he claimed would curb illegal immigration and unfounded claims for political asylum.

Another controversial area for Blunkett was civil liberties (which he famously described as "airy fairy" [1] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1999/02/99/e-cyclopedia/1666371.stm)); as Education Secretary, he had repeatedly expressed the intention that, were he to become Home Secretary, he would make the then-incumbent Jack Straw, who had been criticised for being somewhat hard-line, seem overly liberal.

On 15 January 2003, he was at the centre of controversy again when at a gathering of Asian and Black Home Office Employees in London he made a joke: "Colin Jackson succeeded, despite being Welsh". The comment caused great controversy amongst senior Welsh Nationalists but the Labour party rallied around Blunkett and the matter was quietly dropped.

In 2003, he announced an extension of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act, which critics condemned as a "snoopers' charter". His Criminal Justice Act 2003 reduced legal safeguards such as the right to trial by jury and double jeopardy rules. He also attempted to introduce compulsory national identity cards (initially called "entitlement cards", though this euphemism was later dropped).

These measures earned him the nickname Big Blunkett [2] (http://big-blunkett.blogspot.com/) from parts of the tabloid press, a reference to the Orwellian concept of Big Brother.

Fall from power

See also: David Blunkett scandal

During his time as Home Secretary, Blunkett had a relationship with Kimberly Fortier, the American-born publisher of right-wing magazine The Spectator. The three-year relationship ended non-amicably in August 2004, with Fortier choosing to return to her husband, Stephen Quinn; Fortier has since reverted to her married name of Quinn.

At the end of November 2004, it was alleged that Blunkett abused his position to assist his ex-lover's Filipina nanny, Leoncia "Luz" Casalme, by speeding up ('fast-tracking') her residence visa application and later using his influence to ensure that she successfully obtained an Austrian tourist visa. An investigation into these allegations was launched, led by Sir Alan Budd. Shortly before Sir Alan was due to report his findings, an email emerged headed "no special favours, .. but a bit quicker". Though there was no evidence Blunkett was responsible for the email or its title, he resigned as Home Secretary on 15 December 2004, saying that questions about his honesty were damaging the government. Sir Alan's final verdict, delivered on 21 December 2004, concluded that "I believe I have been able to establish a chain of events linking Mr Blunkett to the change in the decision on Mrs Casalme's application."

Budd admitted that the investigation was "not a straightforward matter", because few involved in it could recall the details. His report says "I believe there are two broad possibilities: Mr Blunkett was seeking special help for Mrs Quinn's nanny (or) he was raising the case as an example of the poor performance of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND). I do not have direct evidence that allows me to choose between the two possibilities.". An important fax from Mr Blunkett's office to IND had not been found during the inquiry, but Sir Alan found no evidence of a deliberate attempt to conceal or destroy evidence. Following the report's publication, he told reporters: "I have been unable to link Mr Blunkett to the sending of faxes to IND. There must have been such a link but I have been unable to discover what its nature was."

Mr Blunkett resigned as Home Secretary after being told in advance of Budd's findings. He said "I want to make it clear that I fully accept the findings of Sir Alan's report, where his findings differ from my recollections this is simply due to failure on my part to recall details." On the same day that Sir Alan delivered his report, a parliamentary standards committee led by Sir Philip Mawer also upheld a complaint against Blunkett for giving Mrs Quinn a taxpayer-funded railway ticket (reserved for MPs' spouses) to the value of GBP 179. Blunkett had already admitted that he had broken the rules, saying that he had made an honest mistake, and repaid the sum in question.

Blunkett's situation was not helped by a series of stinging criticisms of his Cabinet colleagues, made by Blunkett to his biographer, which became public days before he resigned. His increasingly high-profile paternity battle (see Private life) was also believed by many to be harming his position. However, many believed that he would be able to salvage his political career.

Return to the Cabinet

Those who believed in Blunkett's continuing influence appeared to be justified after the United Kingdom general election, 2005 when he returned to the cabinet as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, where he faces a growing pensions crisis. Characteristically he was already at work on Saturday morning (7 May).

Private life

Blunkett divorced his wife, by whom he had three sons, in 1990. In 2004, as news of his affair with former lover Kimberly Quinn became international news, Blunkett asserted that he was the father of Mrs Quinn's two-year-old son, William, and also perhaps of her then unborn child. Mrs Quinn denied this, claiming that both children are her husband's. In late 2004, Blunkett began a legal challenge to gain access to William, more of which is covered in the David Blunkett Story section of the Fathers' rights movement in the UK article. In late December 2004, as was widely reported in the media, however, DNA tests confirmed that Mrs Quinn's two-year-old son, William, is indeed Blunkett's biological child. On 5 March it was confirmed that Blunkett was not the father of Quinn's newborn son, Lorcan.

Blunkett's guide dogs — Ruby, Teddy, Offa, Lucy, and most recently Sadie — have become familiar characters at Westminster, inspiring occasional witty comments from Blunkett and his fellow MPs on both sides of the house. In one memorable incident, Lucy vomited in Parliament during a speech by opposition member David Willetts. However, Blunkett's blindness does not generally arouse much comment.

Bibliography

External links

Resignation as Home Secretary

Paternity battle



Preceded by:
Gillian Shephard
Secretary of State for Education and Employment
1997–2001
Succeeded by:
Sec. State Education and Skills
Estelle Morris
Preceded by:
Jack Straw
Home Secretary
2001–2004
Succeeded by:
Charles Clarke
Preceded by:
Alan Johnson
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
2005–
Succeeded by:
Current incumbent

Template:End boxde:David Blunkett pt:David Blunkett sv:David Blunkett

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