There is no prize for predicting the two least exciting political events of 2005: the publication of Sir Alan Budd’s inquiry into David Blunkett’s alleged ‘fast-tracking’ of a visa application for his former lover’s nanny, and the conclusion of Sir Philip Mawer’s investigation into the Home Secretary’s misuse of a first-class Parliamentary rail warrant to speed his mistress to his Derbyshire weekend home. Unless Mr Blunkett has already resigned, these investigations — which needless to say will cost taxpayers vastly more than the railway tickets in question — are no more likely to assassinate him than Lords Hutton and Butler finished off the ministers involved in their respective inquiries.
Clearly, The Spectator has an interest to declare in the Blunkett affair. As is well known, Kimberly Quinn, Mr Blunkett’s former lover, is the magazine’s publisher. But we are confident that most impartial observers would agree with us that the Home Secretary’s alleged misuses of his position amount to little. There is no suggestion that Leoncia Casalme, Mrs Quinn’s Filipina nanny, was an improper person to enter the country; the issue is whether, with a little help from Mr Blunkett with her paperwork, she was able to achieve permanent residency in Britain a little sooner than she would otherwise have been able to do. As for Mr Blunkett’s use of the rail warrant — which he has admitted was wrong, and the cost of which he has already repaid — his offence was to stretch the rules governing one of many absurdly generous MPs’ perks. According to the rules, MPs are entitled to confer free rail tickets upon spouses, partners and homosexual lovers. It is clear that Mr Blunkett did count Mrs Quinn as his partner; the complication is that in being a married woman she officially counted as someone else’s partner.
While excusing the Home Secretary on these matters, we do have grave doubts about his conduct in certain other respects, not least the ruthless manner in which he decided to kiss and tell. That David Blunkett is responsible for broadcasting the details of his affair to the world there can be little doubt. Tabloids cannot publish kiss and tell stories without the co-operation of one of the parties involved, and any analysis of the quotes contained within the original story published in the News of the World in August must confirm that in this case it was Mr Blunkett who co-operated. The situation is this: he had an affair with a married woman and fathered her child. When she decided to remain with her husband, Mr Blunkett reacted like a teenage girl who finds the object of her desires wrapped around somebody else at the school bus shelter. He is an adult, and one of the most powerful politicians in the land, and yet he went bleating to the tabloid newspapers with the sole object of shocking and humiliating his lover’s husband, and destroying her marriage. After years of sucking up to the tabloid media, notably by introducing a series of illiberal Home Office measures, he was able to deploy them as weapons of revenge in his deluded amatory campaign. It is a contemptible way to behave.
Such conduct seriously undermines the position of a Cabinet minister who is responsible for the law on privacy issues. How can he, or anyone else, call for restraint on the part of the tabloids, when he has blatantly blabbed? He has violated his own privacy, and violated the public’s right to be protected from the details of his private life. And above all this man — who swears that the state will not abuse ID cards — has violated the privacy of his former lover, her husband and her children. From now on the redtops will nose around our lives with utter impunity, confident that it will be impossible for the present Home Secretary to do anything to rein them in.
It is no consolation that the tabloids have this week turned against the Home Secretary, and that his former allies at the Daily Mail have decided that they can no longer go easy on him, given the ammunition they are being handed by the supporters of his former lover. He should have known that this would be the outcome. He should have known, like the frog stung by the scorpion in Aesop’s fable, that this was the nature of the beast. By going public twice — once in revealing the affair, and once in filing his paternity claim — he has initiated a dreadful first world war-style shelling match between himself and the supporters of Kimberly Quinn, which the rest of the world can only watch in stupefied horror. Iraq is in chaos, Gordon Brown’s economy is on the slide, the housing market is faltering, and yet the British public is engrossed in a public dispute about the disintegration of a love affair, a dispute that could have remained private had Mr Blunkett acted with decency and common sense.
The wider world already thinks we are mad, as a nation, to put up with our tabloids’ disgusting intrusions into privacy; that these intrusions should be abetted by the Home Secretary is a sign of degeneracy.