Last week I suggested that in August David Blunkett leaked news of his affair with Kimberly Quinn to the News of the World. My reason for doing so was not that I wished to champion Kimberly Quinn, who happens to be publisher of this magazine. I simply could see no other explanation. Mrs Quinn’s supporters passionately believed that Mr Blunkett did ‘kiss and tell’, and the strength of their belief was such that it was impossible to think (and remains so) that Mrs Quinn herself was the secret conduit. If she was not, who could it be other than Mr Blunkett, who had been dumped by Mrs Quinn, and had the motive of vengeance?
On Friday 13 August Andy Coulson, editor of the News of the World, interviewed Mr Blunkett in Sheffield at 10 o’clock in the morning. Two days later the newspaper publicised Mr Blunkett’s affair, though without naming Mrs Quinn. (The Sun did so the following day.) The Home Secretary taped this interview, seemingly with Mr Coulson’s knowledge. I have obtained what appears to be a complete transcript of their meeting. It shows that, at any rate on this occasion, Mr Blunkett did not leak anything to the News of the World. Throughout the interview Mr Blunkett maintains that his private life is his own business, and he will not discuss it with anyone. Towards the end of the meeting he comes close to making an unintentional admission that he has had an affair with Mrs Quinn, but by no stretch of imagination could this slip be represented as a ‘kiss and tell’.
Mr Coulson’s attitude during the interview is that of the reluctant executioner who is certain of his facts. He is politely apologetic for having to wield the knife, and even wonders hypocritically whether it would be better if newspapers did not publish details of politicians’ private lives, but ‘that’s not how things are’. He begins by saying that he has ‘no desire to cause [Mr Blunkett] damage, political or otherwise’. His paper has been ‘broadly supportive’ of the Home Secretary. He mentions that he had ‘outlined’ the allegations to Mr Blunkett the previous day. Mr Blunkett admits that Kimberly Fortier (as she then styled herself) has been his friend since July 2001, and says that neither she nor he has made any secret of this. He suggests that Mr Coulson’s source may not be a reliable one. The editor of the News of the World says that he is ‘extremely confident of the information I have’. He also has photographs. (These were taken when Kimberly Quinn visited Mr Blunkett’s London house two days earlier, with her two-year-old son William, finally to end the affair.) Mr Coulson says that if he does not publish, one of his sources will go to another newspaper. Mr Blunkett later concedes that ‘the Daily Mail have done at least two Peter McKay pieces [about his friendship with Kimberly]’.
While admitting that Kimberly is a ‘close friend’, Mr Blunkett continues to insist that he will not discuss any details of his private life. One reason he offers is that he would be unable to keep ‘good friendships’ if he spoke about them. In a rare flash of resentment he says that ‘it’s a bad job’ that he should have been watched. Mr Coulson says that he intends to keep Kimberly’s name out of the story. A little later he adds that it may not even be the ‘splash’. Publication will be the end of the matter. It will be ‘done and dusted’. Mr Blunkett indicates that he would not want Kimberly to be damaged by having her name associated with his.
Aside from his complaint that he was watched, Mr Blunkett remains calm and in control of himself. By not denying the relationship he probably gives Mr Coulson what he wants, since even a man who will not discuss his private life would surely be tempted to deny an affair that was fictitious. On the other hand, he evidently does not want to tell a lie. To do so, when Mr Coulson seems so sure of his facts, might anger the editor, with whom Mr Blunkett is at pains to keep on good terms.
All the same there will be those — especially in Mrs Quinn’s camp — who may argue that Mr Blunkett could have done more to protect her. My own view is that, with one exception, he did everything he could and should have done to safeguard her, short of telling an outright lie. The exception comes towards the end of the interview. Mr Coulson says, ‘When I asked you yesterday, you said you wouldn’t answer it on the phone. I will ask you the question now. Is the story untrue?’ Mr Blunkett repeats that he will not discuss his private life and, after an interjection by Mr Coulson, gives a longer answer which ends in this way. ‘So I am very happy to confirm that Kimberly is a close friend of mine, that we have seen a lot of each other over the past three years, and I am not prepared to go into bedroom talk, now or in the future.’ This implies there has been bedroom talk — and so an affair did take place — but that Mr Blunkett is not prepared to discuss it.
Did Mr Blunkett go further than he had to? Possibly. But no fair reading of this transcript permits the interpretation that he either initiated the meeting with Mr Coulson, or that he deliberately outed Kimberly Quinn as an act of vengeance. It is possible (though I personally doubt it) that the transcript I have seen is not a complete record of the meeting, and that other things were said by Mr Blunkett, not recorded here, that were injurious to Mrs Quinn. It is also conceivable that Mr Blunkett, or one of his advisers, went further in a telephone conversation with Mr Coulson in the short period between the interview and publication.
If it was not Mr Blunkett who contacted the News of the World, who was it? I have given my reasons for believing that it was probably not Mrs Quinn. One theory, which I aired last week, is that the newspaper may have learnt about it from a senior executive in News International, its publishing company, who is having an affair with an assistant in Mr Blunkett’s office. (She is still employed there.) This remains plausible. We should also remember that Mr Blunkett and Mrs Quinn were often seen together, and someone not particularly friendly to either of them may have put two and two together.
You may well ask whether any of this matters. I think it does. Mr Blunkett has been characterised as vengeful and irrational, pulling down the temple on himself and his lover. Certainly he may not always have acted rationally, and he still has several questions to answer about alleged improprieties arising from the affair in relation to his duties as Home Secretary. But I no longer believe that he set this terrible story in motion. There is much bad blood between Mrs Quinn’s camp and Mr Blunkett’s — and between the two former lovers — and the origin of the ill feeling is Mrs Quinn’s conviction that Mr Blunkett behaved like a rejected tart. It is probably far, far too late for bridges to be built, but it might help if everyone could accept that it seems not to have been David Blunkett who kissed and told.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated December 11, 2004