“After 45 years of being called councillor and then MP, having some authority to represent people in the area, I’m nowt now really am I?”
So said David Blunkett, who has packed up his Westminster office and is no longer a candidate hoping for re-election for the first time in almost five decades. The former Brightside and Hillsborough MP will be campaigning, but for Labour colleagues instead, after he decided to stand down.
“It is really strange,” he told The Star. “Obviously there are tremendous emotions because it is the end of an era and the beginning of something new.
“I’ve got to remember when I write letters, I write them as an individual, not representing anybody else.”
Born blind at Jessop Hospital in 1947, Mr Blunkett grew up in poverty in Parson Cross after his father died in an industrial accident. He achieved highly at school, became a teacher and the youngest councillor on Sheffield Council at 22.
In 1987 he was elected as MP, and rose through the ranks to become Education Secretary and then the second highest politician in the country – Home Secretary.
He resigned from the cabinet twice and made national headlines over an affair with married Kimberley Quinn, allegations he fast-tracked a visa for her nanny and his brief directorship of a DNA testing company.
His colourful, controversial and at times turbulent career did not stop Tony Blair saying he would have made a good prime minister. Current PM David Cameron also described him as an ‘extraordinary politician’ during Commons tributes.
Mr Blunkett said it ‘wasn’t likely’ he would have defeated Gordon Brown to lead the country.
He added: “On a personal note I wasn’t sure whether, given that I’d worked at the absolute nth, 16 hours a day, six and a half days a week, whether there was much more that I could have taken because there is a personal price to be paid.
“You’re happy to pay it, and you know you are making a difference and it matters but there is a price, you stop being the person you were. I’m just glad now, even stepping out of formal politics, there’s a kind of relief because its going to give me a new lease of life, a new energy doing new things.”
That new lease of life will not involve much putting his feet up at home on the Chatsworth estate.
Mr Blunkett, who had been quizzed by local teens in an international politics conference at Sheffield City Hall, plans more media work and to team up with The University of Sheffield in political outreach.
He said: “I can do some light-hearted media things, perhaps taking a look at what’s happening to Britain, a bit tongue in cheek and not necessarily with party politics.
“In party politics you are representing your party as well as the people who elected you, you always have to watch your ps and qs, to be a little bit careful – sometimes a lot more careful than I was – in what you say because things are jumped on.”
At the university he hopes to ‘use my own background and what I’ve learned to be able to help people do it better in the future. Education has always been my first love’.
Among his most memorable days was handling the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on New York, three months in to the job as Home Secretary.
Asked what his number one achievement for Sheffield had been, Mr Blunkett said: “I think in Government I was able to ensure Sheffield was on the map when it came to getting resources needed, particularly the rebuilding of schools, the development of Longley Park Sixth Form College and Hillsborough to new colleges in 2004 which transformed the lives of young people and numbers staying on in further education.
“Whenever I got the chance, internationally and nationally, I was always talking about Sheffield. The history of Sheffield and the present Sheffield, the craftsmanship, the technology, innovation and the Peak District. It’s no longer an ugly picture in a glorious frame, it’s a wonderful picture in a glorious frame.”
And lifelong Owls’ fan Mr Blunkett’s final message for Star readers was one of thanks.
“People of different political outlooks have always said, you’re for Sheffield, you’ve been for us, we’ll tell you off when we think you are wrong, but we’ll give you the backing to do it right.
“I just need to say thank you really because none of what I’ve been able to do over 45 years would have been possible without the wonderful people of Sheffield,” he said.
“I’ve been proud to represent this city and I’ll be proud to carry on singing its praises and doing my best to make it a better place to live.”
Three questions for David Blunkett
1) What are your predictions for the general election?
It’s clearly going to be a mess. You don’t have to be a great guru to recognise the intervention of very large swathes of Scotland voting SNP, and Ukip to a lesser extent in England, is going to affect the outcome.
Not just the overall outcome which we know will be messy but in individual constituencies as well – seats that people thought they were going to win, suddenly they will lose.
All of this is a trauma for those involved but also worrying for the nation because we don’t know what the Government will look like after May 7 and putting together a Coalition – which is most likely to be the case – is going to be extremely difficult.
2) What is your biggest regret?
I regret I’d not sorted my private life out better a decade ago but that was personal and emotional and we are human beings and we make mistakes. I regret making the mistakes, not the outcome which is a wonderful young man who is my son but mainly because I felt I’d let people down. I had so much more still to do in Government.
3) How would you like to be remembered politically?
As a straight talker, as somebody who was rooted in my constituency, who cared about what happens to Sheffield and is always on the side of Sheffield and Sheffielders. In other words, I wasn’t someone floating about in Westminster.