Stephen Glover on the Press

How Blunkett is fast-tracking his visa back into the Cabinet
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The Independent Online

Last December David Blunkett stood down as Home Secretary after it had been established that the visa application of his former lover's nanny had been fast-tracked. Now he is engaged in a bout of fast-tracking of his own - his rehabilitation as a government minister. In this process he is receiving the enthusiastic support of Her Majesty's Press. Scarcely a single voice has been raised to ask whether Mr Blunkett should perhaps wait a little longer before staging his comeback, and no one has had the temerity to suggest that he should not return at all.

Last December David Blunkett stood down as Home Secretary after it had been established that the visa application of his former lover's nanny had been fast-tracked. Now he is engaged in a bout of fast-tracking of his own - his rehabilitation as a government minister. In this process he is receiving the enthusiastic support of Her Majesty's Press. Scarcely a single voice has been raised to ask whether Mr Blunkett should perhaps wait a little longer before staging his comeback, and no one has had the temerity to suggest that he should not return at all.

A couple of weeks ago the pages of The Guardian and the Daily Mail were cleared so that Mr Blunkett could discourse on his new favourite topic, Englishness. We reverently read his thoughts, though they were, perhaps, not so very remarkable. He also made an appearance on Breakfast with Frost. Then, about a week ago, he gave a rash of interviews - to Alice Thomson in The Daily Telegraph, to Mary Ann Sieghart in The Times and to Colin Brown in The Independent. All were respectful, perhaps especially Thomson and Sieghart. To Thomson, in particular, he opened his heart, confiding that his former lover, Kimberly Quinn, had been the "great love of his life [who] meant everything to me". Not for the first time, the former Home Secretary broke his own rule about never discussing his private life. Try stopping him! But, on this occasion his frankness got him into trouble with Sieghart, who complained that he had not spilled the beans to her in quite the way he had to Thomson. Blunkett was forced to suggest - wholly implausibly, I must say, given her high reputation - that Thomson might have cooked up her juicier quotes.

But this was a slight hiccup in what has been a stunningly successful media campaign. During his public spat with Quinn in the weeks before his resignation, it was noted how her briefers to the press consistently got the better of Blunkett's. If this was so, it was because she had the benefit of advice from a formidable array of media types. Tempting though it is to believe that Blunkett has now acquired his own media maestro, I don't believe he has. For is there any greater maestro than Blunkett himself? With nothing else to do other than plan his own comeback, he has devoted himself single-mindedly to cultivating his friends in the media. The key point about Blunkett is this: since 1997 there has been no government minister, not even Gordon Brown, who has more expertly stroked the tummies of journalists. His firmest friends have been at News International, in particular The Sun, and at the Daily Mail.

His relations with News International are especially fascinating. It so happens that Katherine Raymond, one of his special advisers when he was Home Secretary, lives with Les Hinton, the chairman of News International. This liaison did nothing to frustrate Blunkett's own relations with the newspaper group. Indeed, when the News of the World broke the story of his affair last August it was suggested by some that Blunkett or Raymond had planted the story in order to spike Quinn's guns.

For a time I believed this myself, though I later changed my mind when I read the transcript of an interview between Blunkett and the editor of the News of the World which seemed to show that the paper had made the first move. But it was certainly the case that the News of the World and The Sun gave Blunkett a soft ride by their normal standards. Rebekah Wade, the editor of the Sun, remains a special friend. She was one of several editors present at a dinner held last week in Blunkett's honour by Elizabeth Murdoch, the daughter of Rupert Murdoch, the ultimate deity in News International.

When Peter Mandelson was ejected from office for the second time he proclaimed his innocence to editors, yet none of them championed his early rehabilitation, and a few of them opposed it in print.

How interesting that Blunkett should so easily outdo the fêted prince of spin. Of course, he has several innate advantages. His blindness wins him natural sympathy; and he is a more agreeable companion than Mandelson. But was his misdemeanour any less serious? I hardly think so. The truth is that Blunkett has no equal in dealing with the press. He understands that, even if a newspaper does not approve of a minister's policies or actions, it may still be less critical if it approves of the minister.

My guess, though, is that Blunkett harbours dark thoughts about the press. He cannot have forgiven the Mail for loosening the tongue of Kimberly Quinn's nanny; and he will not have forgotten a vicious column by Richard Littlejohn in The Sun.

But he is a driven, ambitious, man who, as he told Alice Thomson, felt "alive again" after his first appearance on the Today programme for three months. Whatever you think about David Blunkett, he is a first-class politician who will not allow any feelings of resentment to stand in the way of his return to office. He understands the power of newspapers, where that power is located, and how it is exercised. David Blunkett has, largely, squared the press, and Tony Blair will know that when he reappoints him to the Cabinet after the election - if Labour wins - leader columns will be awash with praise.

A damaging legacy

Piers Morgan's new book is, amazingly, top of the best-sellers' list. Who would have believed that the diaries of a former red-top editor would be so popular? Admittedly they are highly readable. And Morgan's portrayal of the Court of Blair as slippery and in thrall to the red-tops evidently strikes a chord.

But I stick by my reservations, expressed here two weeks ago, about Morgan's shameless disregard for the convention by which journalists do not reveal the details of recent meetings with politicians. Last week Morgan took me to task in a letter, and accused me of hypocrisy. He complained that I had referred to a private conversation with Boris Johnson even while wondering whether he, Morgan, should have described private meetings with Tony Blair.

Morgan may never have been top of the class for reason, but can I point out the distinction? My objection is not a moral one. I mentioned that Boris had deprecated media columnists for pursuing vendettas though he had, in fact, urged me to pursue some of his own. My disclosure is unlikely to have any effect on the way in which Boris confides to his friends. But Morgan's very detailed, and much more damning, published revelations about Tony Blair and his cronies might conceivably have the effect of making public men - and certainly the Prime Minister - think twice before again talking so freely to journalists.

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