As new reality dawns, friends predict a return after general election

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Allies of David Blunkett predicted yesterday that he could return to the Cabinet despite his spectacular fall from grace after admitting that his office helped to fast-track a visa application by the nanny of his former lover.

Allies of David Blunkett predicted yesterday that he could return to the Cabinet despite his spectacular fall from grace after admitting that his office helped to fast-track a visa application by the nanny of his former lover.

As the former Home Secretary started his new life as a backbencher, some friends expressed concern that he would suffer bouts of the "depression" he forecast after his resignation. But they believed that he would bounce back both personally and politically.

One friend said: "He isn't going to go into some self-pitying hibernation. He will be facing up to the new reality." Mr Blunkett spent yesterday meeting staff in his House of Commons office before heading to his Sheffield Brightside constituency.

Allies of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the man most likely to succeed him as Prime Minister, did not rule out a cabinet comeback by the former Home Secretary after the next general election - even though some MPs said that, at 57, he might be deemed too old.

He would have to resolve his tangled private life before returning to frontline politics. He is taking action in the family courts in an attempt to secure access to the two-year-old son he says he fathered during his affair with Kimberly Quinn.

At yesterday's cabinet meeting, Mr Blair paid a warm tribute to Mr Blunkett, saying he was "very sad" about his departure. The Prime Minister's official spokesman declined to speculate about a recall, adding: "We deal with one reshuffle at a time, but the Prime Minister did express his continuing admiration for David Blunkett."

Mr Blair has shown he is prepared to give a second chance to ministers who resign. Peter Mandelson was brought back to the Cabinet only 10 months after quitting as Trade and Industry Secretary, only to be forced out a second time. Stephen Byers, who resigned after a civil war at the Department of Transport, was offered a return ticket to the Cabinet this summer but decided to stay on the back benches.

Clive Soley, a former chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, said: "I do think David [Blunkett] could come back, and I think he should. My gut feeling is that he could come back after the next election. I do not think it could be before that election, but I think any time after that election is entirely possible."

Mr Soley said Mr Blunkett was popular among working-class communities and warned that his exit left the Government looking "more and more middle class". "If we are not careful, British politics will lose the sort of cross-section that we get at the moment," he said.

John Reid, the Health Secretary, said: "We fully understand why he made his decision. I think all of us just hope now that he will have just a little time in his own life to privately get things together. The rest of us now have to get on with the business of government."

Harry Harpham, the former Home Secretary's constituency agent, said he had no doubt Mr Blunkett would return to frontline politics. "I'm sure he will be back. He's too talented for them not to use his services. Tony Blair will miss him and I'm sure he will be called on again. I spoke to David last night. He was feeling low and disappointed, as you can imagine. I was surprised he resigned."

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