Blunkett forced to apologise to ministers

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David Blunkett made frantic attempts to shore up his position as Home Secretary yesterday by apologising to cabinet ministers for his scathing criticisms of their performances.

David Blunkett made frantic attempts to shore up his position as Home Secretary yesterday by apologising to cabinet ministers for his scathing criticisms of their performances.

In an interview for a new biography of him, Mr Blunkett laid bare his misgivings about his cabinet colleagues, including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Although his remarks were made almost a year ago, their publication came at the worst possible moment for the Home Secretary, who is fighting for his political life over the allegation that he fast-tracked a visa application for the nanny of his former lover, Kimberly Quinn.

Speculation about Mr Blunkett's future intensified last night after he refused to say whether he had considered resigning over the furore about his private life. "I am not even answering that question," he said on BBC Television's Ten O'Clock News.

The Home Secretary denied he was repeating the mistakes of the Tory politicians who had to resign after the Major government launched its ill-fated "back to basics" crusade. He said: "I don't think anyone can say that I have said one thing in public and done another in private."

In a reference to his legal battle to win access to Mrs Quinn's two-year-old son, whom he claims he fathered, Mr Blunkett insisted he practised what he preached. "Everything I stand for is about personal responsibility," he said. "I have spent 34 years endeavouring to change the world for the better, and with the Prime Minister's support I will carry on doing so."

He admitted politicians made mistakes, saying they were "just as human as anybody else". The Home Secretary got on the phone yesterday to make a string of grovelling apologies to the cabinet ministers he criticised in the biography being serialised in the Daily Mail. His aides contacted Mr Brown's office on Sunday night to play down the remarks before they were even published.

In the book, Mr Blunkett accused the Chancellor of "throwing his weight around" and claimed he had to "take him on quite strongly" to win his respect. He said Mr Blair did not like being "stood up to" but tolerated "more of Gordon Brown than he ought".

He accused Charles Clarke, who succeeded him as Secretary of State for Education, of going "soft" and taking his foot off the accelerator. The book, by the journalist Stephen Pollard, quotes an adviser to Mr Blunkett as saying he inherited "a giant mess" from Jack Straw, his predecessor at the Home Office.

Yesterday, an embarrassed Mr Blunkett insisted: "It is not my book." But close aides did not deny he made the remarks and one explained: "He was having a bad day. Mother Teresa would have got both barrels on that day. Just because he was like a bear with a sore head, he should not have taken it out on other people. But these were not measured or balanced judgements about his colleagues."

In one phone call, Mr Blunkett told Mr Straw the remarks in the book did not represent his view of Mr Straw's tenure at the Home Office. Although he believes he had to clear up a "mess" on asylum policy, Mr Blunkett has become more admiring of Mr Straw's record the longer he has served as Home Secretary.

Some ministers were privately furious that Mr Blunkett had "let rip" at them in an interview intended for publication. One said it was "no coincidence" that the Home Secretary appeared to criticise the ministers who succeeded him and preceded him in his two jobs. "He seems to be saying that he's the only one doing a good job," he said.

Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, denied a claim by Mr Blunkett that she almost allowed the Competition Commission to kill off local chemists. "It is the complete opposite of the truth," said an aide of Ms Hewitt.

Although ministers believe the remarks will damage Mr Blunkett, there was no immediate sign that his cabinet colleagues would withdraw their support for his efforts to keep his job. One ally of Mr Brown said: "He believes that when friends and colleagues are under attack, you stand up and speak up for them."

Mr Blunkett's remarks, made over lunch, came at a time when he faced strong opposition within the Cabinet to his controversial plan to bring in identity cards.