Who is more in the wrong, David Blunkett or Kimberly Quinn? Everyone has a view. Let me tell the story. I have deliberately chosen not to talk to Kimberly Quinn, who is publisher of The Spectator. Nor have I spoken to David Blunkett, or anyone who works for him.
Last July Kimberly Quinn (she then called herself Kimberly Fortier) told Mr Blunkett that their three-year affair was over. Mr Blunkett was very unhappy about this. He was in love with Mrs Quinn, and seems not to have acted particularly rationally. He wanted at the very least to establish his paternity of Mrs Quinn’s two-year-old son, as well as the child she is expecting in January. There was in Mr Blunkett’s office a young assistant who was having an affair with a senior executive of News International, which publishes the News of the World and the Sun. A connection was established between Mr Blunkett’s office and News International. In August Mr Blunkett had a meeting with senior executives of the News of the World, which subsequently carried a story about his affair. The Home Secretary’s behaviour in publicising his liaison with a married woman was, to say the least, highly unusual.
However, it might all have ended there, since, as Mr Blunkett must have calculated would be the case, no newspaper called for his resignation. The one paper that might have set out to destroy an erring minister in other circumstances — the Daily Mail — stayed its guns. Mr Blunkett has had a very warm relationship with that newspaper, whose editor, Paul Dacre, holds the Home Secretary in high esteem. But while the story fizzled out in the public arena, much was happening behind the scenes. Mr Blunkett remained besotted with Mrs Quinn, and told friends about his continuing infatuation with her. He was determined to establish his rights of paternity, and commenced legal proceedings to do so. Not unnaturally, this upset Mrs Quinn and her husband, Stephen, who everyone seems to agree has behaved like a brick.
On 21 November the Sunday Telegraph reported that the Home Secretary had launched a legal challenge to establish whether he was the father of Mrs Quinn’s son, as well as of her unborn child. The News of the World also ran the story, though on an inside page. Interestingly, the Sunday Telegraph was at pains to suggest that the NoW had had the story first, but this was not the case. Of course, the information came from Mrs Quinn’s camp, which was increasingly dismayed by Mr Blunkett’s behaviour and wished to strike back. In this and other briefings it is suggested that Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director of Condé Nast, and Julia Hobsbawm, a PR operator and friend of Kimberly Quinn’s, have played their part.
In the days following the Sunday Telegraph’s bombshell the story almost died again. Amazingly, the following day the Sun carried only a few lines. Mr Blunkett’s original approach to News International had not been forgotten. The BBC and the so-called posh papers ignored it altogether on the highly debatable grounds that this was a private matter. Only the Daily Mail, with a little support from the Daily Express, kept things going. Because of its close relationship with Mr Blunkett, the Mail was in a ticklish position. It did not want to destroy a man whom it admired. On the other hand, it was too juicy a story for the paper to pass up altogether.
The second bombshell came on 28 November when the Sunday Telegraph ran a ‘splash’ even more damaging to Mr Blunkett. Mrs Quinn’s camp had told the paper that the Home Secretary had been guilty of a number of improprieties during the affair. The worst accusation was that Mr Blunkett had ‘fast-tracked’ a visa for Mrs Quinn’s Filipina nanny in order to allow her to stay in Britain indefinitely. It seems not to have occurred to the ‘friends’ of Mrs Quinn — nor to most of the press subsequently — that in blackening the name of Mr Blunkett they were also shedding a poor light on their own woman, who had been the beneficiary of the Home Secretary’s alleged favours.
Here I want to insert a little story within the main saga which, though not strictly relevant, tells us something about the relations between ministers and senior journalists. On an inside page in its issue of 28 November, the Sunday Telegraph revealed that last year the wife of its editor, Dominic Lawson, had discovered that she had forgotten her passport as they were about to board a ferry to France. Mr Lawson asked the paper’s political editor to telephone Mr Blunkett’s office to find out whether she would be able to travel without it, though in the event no help was forthcoming. Mr Lawson’s intention in bringing out this incident was to ensure that Mr Blunkett did not use it against him for having carried so injurious a story. But why have other papers not mentioned it? Presumably because their editors have also requested little favours of their own.
Sensational though the Sunday Telegraph’s second article was, Monday morning did not bring any calls for the Home Secretary’s resignation. The Sun was adamant that Mr Blunkett should not go. The Daily Mail was evidently beginning to get uneasy, but still did not want to throw its old friend overboard. On the BBC (which had finally woken up to the drama) its political editor, Andrew Marr, opined that Mr Blunkett would probably survive. It is a general principle that when Mr Marr pronounces that a minister in trouble is likely to weather the storm, it is time for him to ask for his P45. And, lo and behold, Wednesday’s Daily Mail carried a piece which would seem to reduce Mr Blunkett’s chances of hanging on. Two letters from the immigration authorities to Mrs Quinn’s former nanny, Leoncia ‘Luz’ Casalme, had come into the paper’s hands. They show that her application for UK residency, which she was warned might take a year, was completed in 19 days. This is not conclusive proof against Mr Blunkett, but things do not look good for him. Forced to choose between its friend and a story, the Mail chose the story. There is a lesson here for all politicians and journalists who think they are close.
It would seem that the Mail did its own deal with the nanny, but this cannot have been at all displeasing to Mrs Quinn and her supporters. They have acted with great astuteness. A group of media people are in the process of bringing down a man who, though he occupies one of the great offices of state, is being outmanoeuvred by them at every turn. Mr Blunkett’s error was to confide in the News of the World. He has not loved wisely, though I make no judgment about his attempt to establish paternity. For their part, Kimberly Quinn and her husband have mounted a ferocious counter-attack. In matters of love, and love that turns to hate, it is a foolish man who apportions blame. Neither of the principal actors comes out of this drama very well, but neither do they emerge particularly badly. Like all tragedies, though, it seems bound to end in tears.