Mr Blunkett resigns

 

Yet another British government minister has resigned in the wake of an extra-marital affair (on her part) and allegations of an abuse of office (on his part).

There is a peculiarly British ring to it all: the sensational claims in tabloid newspapers, the screaming headlines and protestations, if not of innocence, then of some higher motive - in Mr David Blunkett's case, a heartfelt desire to obtain access to his child.

This is a human tragedy for those involved, not least the disputed child and the yet-to-be-born other child which Mr Blunkett's former mistress, Mrs Kimberly Quinn, is carrying and which he maintains is his. The kernel of all this is an essentially private matter and it would have been better had it remained that way.

Of greater public importance, however, is the fact that Mr Blunkett's resignation is a serious blow to the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, who invested considerable political capital in supporting his Home Secretary in recent days and who has now lost an important political soulmate at the cabinet table.

Mr Blunkett trod a path familiar to many in Britain who begin their political careers firmly on the Left. In 1980, he was the youngest leader of Sheffield City Council at the age of 33. It was the start of a decade that would see Mrs Thatcher at war with Labour-dominated local government: the Red Flag flew over Sheffield town hall (the capital, some said, of the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire). But any belief among the Labour ranks that Mr Blunkett would implement in government the sort of policies implied by his earlier career was dispelled quickly when he became Education Secretary in 1997.

Mr Blunkett was New Labour through and through - challenging vested interests among the party's erstwhile support base, such as teacher unions opposed to performance targets and having their members' work inspected. He proved to be a similarly combative and authoritarian Home Secretary. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in the US, he piloted through measures that amounted, in effect, to internment without trial for terrorist suspects. He championed other measures - identity cards, a crack down on asylum seekers - that alarmed some civil liberties groups. But Mr Blunkett had little time for doubters: he spurned those he termed "airy fairy libertarians" and earlier this year he coined the phrase "liberati", as an amalgam of "glitterati" and "liberal", to dismiss some of his critics.

Mr Blunkett's career may yet be revived. Admired - justly - for achieving so much despite a personal disability, he does not leave a record as a great reformer, a legacy he surely craved.