David Blunkett to retire: Profile

David Blunkett
David Blunkett
Have your say

Straight-talking, colourful, often controversial – David Blunkett has spent his adult life immersed in politics.

The man who became the second most powerful politician in the country, with many ups and downs along the way, was born blind at Jessop Hospital in 1947.

He grew up in poverty in Parson Cross after his father died in an industrial accident when he fell into a vat of boiling water. In his diaries, the politician said: “The injustice I saw around me and experienced as a child, the fact it took years to get compensation for my father’s death, and the struggle my mother had to afford to put food on the table, were and remain key factors in my politics.”

Despite being sent to schools for the blind aged four – against his family’s wishes – he fought to achieve and education remains one of his ‘greater passions’.

A lifelong Sheffield Wednesday fan, he became the youngest ever councillor on Sheffield Council at the age of 22.

His home patch was dubbed the ‘Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire’ during the 1970s, but his politics have moved from the far left over the years.

Politically ambitious from the start, Mr Blunkett contested the Sheffield Hallam seat early on and was successful for Sheffield Brightside in 1987.

As former Labour Party chair, he was a major voice in calling for modernisation of the party and a key figure in its rise back to power.

He was handed a cabinet post following the landslide victory in 1997 and has spoken of his refusal to be held back by disability. His success saw him promoted to Home Secretary.

Speaking today about his time on the front bench, he said: “I was privileged to be able to lead on ground-breaking policies, from the introduction of universal early years and nursery provision to the transformation of education and the security of the nation after 9/11.

“It was a privilege to enable young people to have a job and to be able to oversee the most substantial fall in crime in recent history

“Many of the seeds I was able to sow, from welfare reform to lifelong learning, are only now bearing fruit.”

During eight years in the cabinet, Blunkett resigned twice in 12 months. Despite surviving headlines over an affair with married Kimberly Quinn, the storm over allegations he fast-tracked a visa for her nanny led him to quit as Home Secretary. He became Work and Pensions Secretary after just five months on the backbenches, but then resigned over his brief directorship of a DNA testing company.

“Virtually every day for the next 15 months was either a nightmare or an anticipated nightmare,” he wrote of his first resignation and experience as a victim of phone hacking.

Mr Blunkett today said, ‘There was a time I thought ‘is it possible to come back to the frontbench’, but Ed Miliband had wanted a ‘new generation’ to take on the reins. He spoke of how he backed the Labour leader as the only ‘alternative’ to a Conservative Government.

Away from policy, Blunkett’s guide dogs have become familiar Commons characters. Once, dog Lucy vomited during a Conservative speech.

The 67-year-old, who lives on the Chatsworth estate, will not be putting his feet up. “I will never retire,” he once told The Star. “I will work as long as I can to try to improve people’s lives.”