The seamless robe of public probity
Published in: Daily Mail
A faithless but repentant wife; a desperate, obsessional lover; and a stoical and forgiving husband trying to salvage his family. It's the stuff of cheap fiction. But the revelations about David Blunkett's private life were ratcheted up yesterday from unseemly soap-opera to high political drama.
Last week saw the Home Secretary trying to force his ex-lover, the Spectator publisher Kimberly Quinn, to subject her two children - one of whom is as yet unborn - to DNA testing to prove that he is the father of both of them.
Now, along with fresh claims that a private DNA test has already proved that Mr Blunkett is indeed the father of her two year-old son, William, Mrs Quinn has alleged through 'friends' that the Home Secretary abused his official position to help further their relationship.
What was a bitter personal family crisis has now turned into a public gladiatorial fight to the death. Mrs Quinn - whose own reckless and selfish behaviour should not be minimised - reportedly believes that Mr Blunkett refuses to accept that their affair is over. She thinks he is determined to destroy her marriage and reputation, and is using the children's disputed paternity to do so. So now she has set out to ruin him. She may well achieve that objective.
For the slew of allegations she has unleashed constitute a highly damaging set of charges against the Home Secretary. If only some of these claims are true, they form an indictment that will be difficult for him to weather.
The most serious charge is that he helped her nanny fast-track a visa application by bending the rules. Yesterday, he rejected all claims of impropriety. He denied fast-tracking the application, saying that he merely observed that it was in good order. But this raises more questions than it answers.
For in order to offer this opinion, Mr Blunkett - who is of course blind - must have involved his officials. That in itself is a questionable use of his office. And if he really did not smooth the way for the nanny's visa, then how did she manage to obtain it without fulfilling the strict British residence criteria that apply to everyone else?
Now he has ordered an independent inquiry into this claim. But this is only one allegation among many.
It is said, for example, that he pressurised the US embassy to issue a temporary passport for William so that American-born Mrs Quinn and her son could join him on holiday in France. This is clearly an improper use of his official position.
More serious is the claim that the Home Secretary's officials were involved in the break-up of his affair and the subsequent alleged attempt to persuade Mrs Quinn to change her mind. According to Mrs Quinn's friends, his principal private secretary Jonathan Sedgwick was present in Mr Blunkett's house when Mrs Quinn arrived finally to break off the relationship, and was a 'calming influence' on the Home Secretary who became very distressed.
Even worse, it is claimed that when Mrs Quinn went to consult a legal firm, Simkins, after the affair first surfaced in the press, both Mr Sedgwick and John Toker, the Home Secretary's head of PR, both turned up as well with a statement for her to sign saying her marriage was over. According to the Home Office, the two officials had been there but had not brought any such statement with them.
Now, if they did try to force her to sign such a declaration, this would be an abuse of the highest order. But even if they did not, there is still no conceivable proper use of public officials in these circumstances. Civil servants are not funded by the public in order to protect the Home Secretary's reputation from the mess he may make of his private life - nor to hold his hand in confrontations with his mistress.
All this is the kind of behaviour normally associated with the defunct Soviet Union or a banana republic. It shows an inability to unerstand the proper boundaries of public office. And, if the allegations are correct, in hopelessly conflating his public office with his private affairs, Mr Blunkett has destroyed his own argument that his private life has nothing to do with his public role.
In any event, quite apart from these latest claims, this argument was always rather flimsy. For politicians cannot separate public and private like this. Character is a seamless robe, and private lapses have a bearing on the public figure who makes them. This does not mean that every such lapse should be a bar to public office. Much depends on the nature of the misbehaviour and when it happened; and there must be room for compassion and remorse.
And of course, Mr Blunkett deserves compassion for the many adversities he has had to overcome. Merely being confronted with the poverty and hardship of his childhood would have felled other lesser mortals. But in additon, gaining one of the highest offices in the land despite his blindness is a truly formidable achievement.
Nevertheless, he is a public servant who has to be judged -as he would undoubtedly wish - by that alone. And on that basis, his behaviour raises the gravest possible doubts about the character of the Home Secretary, who requires above all else sound, balanced judgment and unswerving focus in discharging his awesome and momentous powers.
This charge sheet is no less devastating than the alleged misuse of his official position. For this is a man who not only had an affair with a married woman, but is insisting on DNA tests ostensibly to discharge his responsibility as a father. But surely, his first responsibility should have been to the welfare of the children who would have been brought up in tranquillity as the children of Mr and Mrs Quinn, a situation which he has now made impossible.
In short, it is hard to judge Mr Blunkett's behaviour as anything other than obsessive. He reputedly told his ex-lover: 'If I am not going to have you, then nobody is going to have you'. How can we trust a Home Secretary to safeguard both our lives and our liberties when his judgment seems to have deserted him?
All this is the stuff of tragedy. A family has been split asunder, with the well-being of two children now in jeopardy and an innocent husband whose stoicism undoubtedly conceals the deepest distress. And David Blunkett, one of the few Labour politicians with any depth and thoughtfulness, has now embarked on a seemingly inexorable path of self-destruction. Unless he comes up with a watertight refutation of all this, it is hard to see how Mr Blunkett's career can survive.