Battler defeated by second resignation

He was compelled to resign as Home Secretary last December after a series of scandals concerning his one-time lover Kimberly Quinn.

This was a bitter blow for a man who had been tipped as a future Prime Minister and it looked as though his career was in ruins.

To general surprise, within months Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said that Mr Blunkett had quit the Home Office "without a stain on his character", reappointed him to the Cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary.

But following political pressure over his business interests, he was forced to resign this post within months of being given a second chance in the Cabinet.

The apparent ease with which Mr Blunkett overcame his blindness was a source of amazement at Westminster. But the exposure of his secret love life was even more astonishing.

His colleagues at Westminster had been convinced that Mr Blunkett's tireless obsession with politics left no room for the kind of amorous private life which had been going on behind closed doors.

Despite his blindness, Mr Blunkett appeared to shoulder the relentless workload with ease and until the late summer of 2004, all but his close circle assumed the divorcee was "married to the job".

Disclosures about his three-year affair with married magazine publisher Mrs Quinn proved he was able to forge a life outside politics.

As a Home Secretary, Mr Blunkett was not in the typical Labour mould, sometimes annoying his back-bench colleagues with his tough approach to immigration and crime.

But it was his private life which set off a chain reaction which was to put paid to his ambitions after 34 years as a political battler.

His legal fight for the right to contact with his ex-lover Kimberly Quinn's son and the revelations it sparked dominated newspaper headlines for days.

Mr Blunkett took responsibility for the tough political battlegrounds of immigration and crime when he was appointed Home Secretary following Labour's 2001 victory.

He also faced unprecedented pressures over security in the wake of the September 11 al Qaida strikes.

A life-long Labour man who joined up at 16, the Sheffield Brightside MP has been unafraid to take on opponents inside and outside the party.

Not a lawyer himself, his tenure at Queen Anne's Gate saw regular confrontations with the profession over legal reforms and civil liberties.

Identity cards were a bone of contention, with Mr Blunkett managing to upset store card bosses as well as the "airy fairy libertarians" so often in his sights.

The immigration issue provided him with one of his grimmest moments in politics.

Mr Blunkett showed typical loyalty to minister Beverley Hughes when she became embroiled in a scandal over a visa processing scam.

But the Home Secretary's full backing could not save Ms Hughes from a drip-feed of allegations - something that may now feel familiar to him.

Born the son of a Sheffield gasman, his early life shaped Mr Blunkett's combative approach to politics.

He was sent to a boarding school for the blind at the age of four and his father died in a horrific industrial accident eight years later, leaving his mother in poverty.

He then had to fight the school authorities to take examinations before winning a place at Sheffield University.

He went on to become the youngest ever leader of Sheffield City Council in 1980.

A place on Labour's ruling National Executive was the next rung in 1985 and he entered Parliament two years later.

Tony Blair appointed him Education Secretary in 1997 following the landslide election victory.

Mr Blunkett quickly set about installing the system of targets and inspections that brought him into conflict with the teaching unions. He also implemented the New Deal.

He was given special dispensation to announce his move to the Home Office personally in what was interpreted by some as a move intended to pave his way to Downing Street.

Cannabis was swiftly reclassified from a Grade B to Grade C drug but those hoping for a new liberal era were swiftly put right by Mr Blunkett's tough stance on crime and immigration.

Security measures introduced in the wake of September 11 confirmed his reputation as a hard-liner and Mr Blunkett did nothing to dispel it, seemingly taunting the "liberati".

To those outside his intimate circle, politics seemed to provide him with the fulfilment that had eluded him in his personal life.

Although he has three much-loved sons, he has written about the unhappiness of his 20-year marriage to Ruth Mitchell, which ended in 1990.

Mr Blunkett evidently believed he had a second chance of domestic happiness with Mrs Quinn, and appeared to have fought for it with typical determination even after she ended the affair.

But a steady stream of disclosures accompanied the acrimonious dispute.

Mr Blunkett was accused of fast-tracking a visa application for Mrs Quinn's nanny and repaid £180 for a Commons rail warrant intended for MPs' spouses which he had given to his lover.

He tried to neutralise the visa claim by asking the Home Office to review the case.

It later emerged that the inquiry, led by former Treasury official Sir Alan Budd, was also examining a claim that a second visa application was "fast tracked" for his former lover's nanny.

A spokesman for Mr Blunkett said Mrs Quinn had spoken to him about a visa obtained for a visit to Austria, but denied that he had become involved in the case.

As Mr Blair and other Cabinet colleagues sought to defend him, further damaging revelations emerged with the publication of scathing comments about fellow ministers in extracts from a biography by author Stephen Pollard.

Mr Blunkett admitted he had been "arrogant" after labelling a range of his Cabinet colleagues "soft", "weak" and prone to "panic" and he made a series of personal apologies.

He had claimed Chancellor Gordon Brown "threw his weight around" and said Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had left the Home Office in a "giant mess" when he moved posts.

In the end, the combative nature that stood him in such good stead as a politician had cost him the job he loved, leaving him both personally and professionally bereft.

That period of desolation was short-lived. Within months he was back in the Cabinet, demonstrating his famed panache and bravura as though nothing had gone wrong.

But Mr Blunkett again found himself at the centre of controversy in October over his business interests, in particular his link with DNA Bioscience.

He attempted to weather the storm and accusations over two other jobs and his failure to observe the Ministerial Code of Conduct eventually forced him from office for a second time.

Comments