Blunkett: Cabinet was riddled with animosity

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Indy Politics

David Blunkett has revealed the depth of the rifts in the Cabinet and detailed the level of opposition over the decision to invade Iraq.

The former home secretary has set out the degree of unease over the war in Iraq in his diaries, in which he also speaks of the animosity between him and the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, saying the two were barely on speaking terms at times.

Mr Blunkett, who began writing his diaries after he was forced to resign following a scandal over his affair with the publisher of The Spectator magazine, Kimberly Quinn, said Tony Blair told him he would be ready to invite him back into office once his problems surrounding the ending of the affair were resolved.

Writing about the start of his difficulties in office, Mr Blunkett said Mr Prescott had become hostile to him after he spoke publicly about the Deputy Prime Minister's sensitivity over his moniker, "Two Jags".

That animosity resurfaced after news of the scandal over his affair broke in December 2004. After 13 days of media coverage, Mr Blunkett, facing the imminent prospect of having to resign, attended an "Old Lags" Christmas dinner for MPs, which Mr Prescott was also at. "Everyone who cared for me said that they had never seen John Prescott look at me with such hatred and bitterness" he recounts in the Daily Mail.

In the diaries, which Mr Blunkett dictated into a tape recorder every night while he was in office, he speaks of the turmoil surrounding his first resignation, on 15 December 2004. Talking of the details of allegations that he fast-tracked Mrs Quinn's nanny's visa application, he speaks of the impact of the scandal on his mental health, and of "feeling absolutely lousy, a combination of real depression and physical illness. I think all of this is now getting to me."

And as the spectre of resignation becomes a reality, he continues: "Even I am beginning to doubt myself. I think I am going mad."

But two months after the resignation, Mr Blair invited him back to office, suggesting, Mr Blunkett said, that the cut and thrust of office would be therapeutic. Mr Blunkett rejoined the Cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary in May 2005, but his office was short-lived, and he resigned a second time over business dealings.

He also writes of his despair at the behaviour of President George Bush and his administration, and of how Gordon Brown, who finally confirmed his support for the Iraq war at the 11th hour, appeared to questioning the requirement for him to attend War Cabinet meetings, apparently complaining that he learnt more about the events unfolding in Iraq from the media.

Mr Blunkett also relates how ministers asked searching questions about the conflict and lack of preparations for the post-war reconstruction, according to The Guardian, singling out Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, for particular criticism.