The Braille Monitor                                                                                                  March 2005

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British Home Secretary Quits

by Glenn Frankel

From the Editor: We have reported on the rise to political prominence in British politics of David Blunkett, who is blind from birth yet has had a long and successful life as local community leader, member of Parliament, and minister in the Blair government. Now Mr. Blunkett demonstrates that in his fall from power, as in his rise, blindness is merely another characteristic. The following story appeared in the December 15, 2004, edition of the Washington Post. Here it is:

One of Britain's most powerful and popular cabinet secretaries resigned his post Wednesday evening after admitting that his office had fast‑tracked a visa application for his married lover's nanny. The resignation of Home Secretary David Blunkett, whose department oversees homeland security, immigration, the justice system, and the national police force, followed a month of open warfare in the tabloid press between Blunkett and his former mistress over his attempt to gain legal visitation rights to her two‑year‑old son, whom he claims to have fathered.

It also creates a political headache for Prime Minister Tony Blair. He had relied upon the outspoken home secretary to shore up his government's support among blue‑collar voters with whom Blunkett's hard‑line stance on law and order, immigration abuses, and other criminal justice issues resonated strongly, although his views have been denounced by human rights groups here. Blair, who plans to call a national election next spring, had expressed support for Blunkett in recent days even as pressure mounted for him to step down.

But it was the human story of the three‑year love affair between Blunkett, fifty-seven, and the married, American‑born Kimberly Quinn, forty-three, publisher of the weekly Spectator magazine, and the affair's bitter and very public demise that has mesmerized politicians and journalists in recent weeks and ended one of the country's most extraordinary cabinet careers.

The story emerged in August when the tabloid press disclosed that Blunkett, who has been blind since birth, and Quinn had conducted the affair, which Quinn was then in the process of ending. When she stopped seeing Blunkett, she and her husband also cut off his access to two‑year‑old William, whom Blunkett had seen regularly and with whom he says he felt he had established a father‑son relationship. The tabloids have reported that Blunkett was persuaded by a preliminary DNA test that William and the unborn child Quinn is currently carrying were both his.

Blunkett then went to family court seeking visitation rights to William. Friends of Quinn and her husband Stephen, publisher of the British edition of Vogue, retaliated by disclosing to the Sunday Telegraph newspaper allegations that Blunkett had abused his office by doing personal favors for Kimberly Quinn, including speeding up the processing of her Filipina nanny's visa application. Blunkett vehemently denied the allegation and called for an independent inquiry.

In his statement Wednesday evening, Blunkett said that Alan Budd, the former civil servant in charge of the investigation, had approached him Tuesday with evidence that his office had indeed sent a fax and email to the directorate that handles immigration matters requesting faster action on the nanny's application.

Blunkett said that, while neither he nor his staff had any recollection of making the request, he felt he must take responsibility and step down. He denied any wrongdoing but said he would not do "the easy thing" and "hide behind my officials" by blaming them for the mistake.

In a series of tearful television interviews Wednesday, Blunkett indicated that his former mistress had made the allegations against him because he had sought access to his son. "All I was seeking was to be able to hold him in my arms again," he told Sky News.

He said he could have walked away in September rather than risk his political career by insisting on his paternity. "Quite honestly, what sort of human being, what sort of man, what sort of politician would people want who would put their career... before doing what a decent human being would want to do?" he asked. "I don't think we want politicians like that, and if people do, they don't want me."

Blunkett conceded to the BBC that he had misjudged his former lover. "I misunderstood what we had; I misunderstood that someone could do this not just to me but to the little one as well," he said.

The Quinns had no immediate comment. Kimberly Quinn, who is seven months pregnant, has spent the last two weeks in the hospital because of stress, according to her husband, who has acted as family spokesman. Newspapers have quoted sources said to be close to the Quinns as claiming that Blunkett had phoned Kimberly Quinn incessantly and pledged to ruin her life if she did not leave her husband for him. Blunkett characterized those reports as among the "terrible garbage" that has rained upon him in recent weeks.

As the scandal unfolded, cabinet secretaries initially rallied around Blunkett at the urging of Blair. But their support had begun to curdle in recent days after a new biography of Blunkett disclosed that he had made a series of critical and cutting remarks about his colleagues. Few expressed surprise at the resignation.

Blair moved quickly to heal the political wound, naming Education Secretary Charles Clarke, another loyalist with a reputation as a rhetorical street fighter, as the new home secretary. But the prime minister also praised Blunkett as "a truly outstanding cabinet minister" and "a force for good in British politics." Blunkett indicated he would run for reelection for Parliament and might seek to return to the cabinet in a new Blair administration.

Blunkett, who as a child had been told he could aspire only to be a janitor or a dishwasher, climbed to the top of the political ladder through relentless determination and hard work. As home secretary he oversaw the enactment of tougher anti‑terrorism legislation and was pushing a new set of proposals, including the introduction of a national identity card.

"David Blunkett was able to articulate the policy direction of the government with a rougher edge than Tony Blair might," said Graham Allen, a Labor Party member of Parliament from a blue‑collar district. "That, along with the remarkable way he overcame his disability, made him a very popular figure in constituencies like mine."

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