Blunkett aims to deflect attention with policy drive

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Indy Politics

The Government is to put David Blunkett in the spotlight next week to show that the controversy engulfing him is not preventing him from doing his job. The Home Secretary will announce plans to increase the penalties for carrying knives illegally to the same level as for carrying guns, which can attract a five-year jail term. He will also publish a Bill on drug-related crime.

The Government is to put David Blunkett in the spotlight next week to show that the controversy engulfing him is not preventing him from doing his job. The Home Secretary will announce plans to increase the penalties for carrying knives illegally to the same level as for carrying guns, which can attract a five-year jail term. He will also publish a Bill on drug-related crime.

A government source said: "We are making sure our agenda for next week is crime-rich. We believe he can still do his job, but the public has got to see that." One cabinet ally told Mr Blunkett: "You can't hide away in your office. You've got to show people you are getting on with the job."

The dilemma for Mr Blunkett is that if he keeps a high profile, the media will continue to ask him difficult questions about the fallout from his affair with Kimberly Quinn, the married publisher of The Spectator magazine. When Mr Blair visited Sheffield with Mr Blunkett on Thursday to launch a crackdown on drink-related crime and disorder, journalists questioned the Prime Minister about Mr Blunkett's future rather than the initiative.

The Home Office is anxiously awaiting any fresh claims that may appear in tomorrow's newspapers, which have teams of reporters delving into Mr Blunkett's personal life and political career.

Mr Blair remains determined to keep Mr Blunkett but fears are growing in Labour circles that he may have to stand down if the firestorm around him continues to rage.

Ministers acknowledge that the barrage of claims is chipping away at Mr Blunkett's chances of survival. One said yesterday: "If this carries on into the new year, he could be doomed."

There is also concern that the investigation by the former Treasury adviser Sir Alan Budd into claims that he fast-tracked a visa for Mrs Quinn's nanny may not end the controversy.

Yesterday, David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, formally requested that the investigation be widened to include other allegations that Mr Blunkett misused his position, including involving civil servants in the Quinn affair and revealing confidential information about a security alert at Newark airport in New Jersey. In a letter to Sir Alan, he singled out claims that Mr Blunkett had involved civil servants in the fallout from his affair.

Mr Davis said he wanted Sir Alan to look into claims that Jonathan Sedgwick, Mr Blunkett's principal private secretary, was at a meeting with Mrs Quinn at his private flat. Mr Sedgwick and John Toker, the Home Office's head of news, also met Mrs Quinn's solicitors on a separate occasion.

Mr Davis said the claims appeared to involve breaches of the ministerial code of conduct, which says that ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and private interests. The inquiry may report in the middle of next week.

The bookmaker William Hill has lengthened its odds against Mr Blunkett resigning as Home Secretary before 2005 from 5/2 to 3/1, saying the news agenda was moving on.

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