Composed Blunkett rides the political storm

David Blunkett trod on Labour's most delicate territory - the one also occupied by middle-class voters - when he said VAT on private school fees had not been ruled out, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

Retribution was swift and Mr Blunkett bore the opprobrium and the embarrassment with the outwardly composed stoicism that has been the hallmark of a seasoned political career But while the words "VAT on school fees'' will never again pass the lips of this former schoolteacher, he remains unbowed by the events of the past 48 hours.

It is also unlikely to stop him talking about controversial issues; he is clever enough and tough enough not to provide too many hostages to fortune, but he does not shrink from grasping nettles.

He did so when rooting out the Militant Tendency and when he told Labour supporters they would have to pay their poll tax.

With his current consideration of whether the funding of an expansion of further and higher education could be paid for by a tax on graduates - which could likewise be viewed as an attack on middle-income groups - there could be more aggravation to come.

Despite early signs of discomfort over grant-maintained schools, not helped by Tony Blair's decision to choose one for his own son, Mr Blunkett has adopted a pragmatic approach to the future on grant-maintained schools, over which he will now consult with teachers, governors and parents, with the caveat that whatever funding structure emerges there will be no special privileges.

He will easily bounce back after the controversy. He said yesterday: "We face very real issues of policy which affect 93 per cent of the population who are not in private education.

"My task is to address their needs and improve standards in a way in which no-one will have to seek private education."

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