The one 'Star' that still shines for Blunkett

Wapping offered early comfort to the disgraced politician, but Sheffield is where the heart really is
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The Independent Online

David Blunkett was comforting himself on Wednesday evening after a bad day losing his job by drinking in Wapping with Wade and her boss, Rupert Murdoch. Wade went on to a night that ended in violence and police custody. Blunkett went off for a chat with The Star.

The day before had been a good one for The Star, with the political correspondents of the national newspapers naming it and quoting it. It was the only place they could find any quotes from David Blunkett. The day before he left the Government for the second time, he went back to his roots: he spoke to the paper he has spoken to since entering local politics aged 22.

The Star took a cool approach, labelling the story "exclusive" but putting it on page seven. Blunkett used The Star's Tuesday piece to maintain that he would not be resigning. By Thursday - "exclusive" again but this time front page - it was "a phenomenal thank you to the people of Sheffield, first for supporting me, second for believing me and third for actually understanding what has been happening on the national scale".

Powell says: "He always will find time to talk to us. And when we do get to him he'll give straight answers. If asked a question, he'll answer it. I remember talking to him at the time of the Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One row. David was a Cabinet minister. I was surprised at the frankness of his answers. That's part of his problem; he's too honest."

Not a view necessarily shared by those who felt the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions had no alternative but to resign after failing to disclose details of his shareholdings and other financial interests.

But in Sheffield, Blunkett has a lot of support. Powell has known him for 20 years and says he understands completely the shared interest of the local MP and the local paper in being positive about the area they represent and report.

As he climbed the political ladder, Blunkett always remained a constituency MP. Even his critics in Sheffield will concede that he fights for the city he loves. He is available there most weekends on constituency matters. It cannot be a frequent occurrence for a home secretary to spend two hours on a Friday calling at a university journalism department to take part in an exercise. Blunkett did.

The relationship between MPs and their local paper is an extension of the relationship with the constituency. MPs know that if they are not appearing in their local paper they are not "doing anything" - that they have "disappeared off to London". The sensible MP, particularly the one with the marginal seat, will not only ask questions in the House of relevance to the constituency but make sure the answers, with suitable spin, are in the paper. Few local papers now have correspondents in Westminster, so the MP must make sure the news reaches home.

The most famous local newspaper involvement with a Cabinet resignation was in May 1993 when the Grimsby Telegraph brought the first news of Norman Lamont's resignation from the John Major government. As one of those boys who confides in his mum, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told his mother he was going to resign. She told the Grimsby Telegraph. Later, news reached London.

With the odd altercation along the way, Blunkett has stuck with The Star and The Star has stuck with Blunkett. That is the way with local papers and their celebrity MPs. The paper will tend to play it straight and to feel a little awkward about the affairs of the heart rather than of state. So it can be comforting when the MP returns home.

But when you've been seduced by Annabel's, will Gatecrasher One, the night spot on the site of the old Roper & Wreaks Sheffield steelworks, seem as good? When you've wined and dined with the editor and proprietor of The Sun, will Powell seem as exciting?

Blunkett will find national press interest in him will diminish rapidly. He may claim to welcome that. He won't mean it. But Sheffield and The Star will not desert him. There is comfort in that.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

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