Blunkett: Oops, he did it again

Now David Blunkett fails to clear his 'Sun' column with anti-sleaze watchdog
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Indy Politics

David Blunkett has started his new job as a newspaper columnist without waiting for clearance from the anti-sleaze watchdog, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

Mr Blunkett was forced to resign from the Cabinet last month because he broke the ministerial code in taking a lucrative job with a DNA testing firm.

The former secretary of state for work and pensions failed to seek the advice of the advisory committee before joining DNA Bioscience, despite being warned of the rules.

He admitted that he should have been "much more methodical" in his dealings with the committee last week. In an interview to launch his column in The Sun, for which he is expected to receive around £190,000 a year, he said that he alone was responsible for ensuring he kept within the rules.

But Mr Blunkett has again failed to get clearance from the committee in starting work for the paper, the Independent on Sunday has learnt. Tony Blair's friend and ally did, on this occasion, ask the committee for its ruling - but then didn't wait for its reply.

A spokeswoman for the advisory committee said: "The committee received a request for general advice on 18 November and we gave that on 22 November. We subsequently received a request for particular advice on 25 November and we are currently considering that request."

Although Mr Blunkett can say that he observed the precise wording of the code - that "ministers should seek advice" on business appointments - he has certainly flouted its spirit in not waiting for a reply.

Sources close to the committee expressed dismay at Mr Blunkett's behaviour. "It's against the rules, even though there's not likely to be a problem."

A spokeswoman for Mr Blunkett admitted that he had failed to wait for the watchdog's advice. She denied, however, that this was a deliberate snub. "He's gone out of his way to seek their advice on not one but two occasions," said the spokeswoman.

The latest breach is an embarrassment, as Mr Blunkett seeks to relaunch himself as a pundit after his second exit from the Cabinet in a year.

His efforts to draw a line under the affair had already been undermined, as one of the principals in the drama spoke publicly for the first time last week.

Lucy Siddiqi, formerly a non-executive director of DNA Bioscience who, with her husband, Tariq, invited Mr Blunkett to join the board, said the couple "couldn't believe our luck" when he readily agreed.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, Mrs Siddiqi detailed dinners the couple had enjoyed with Mr Blunkett at Annabel's and the Groucho Club in London earlier this year.

The former minister had now broken off all contact, she said, and "it appeared he was almost blaming us".

"We were upset because we'd stayed silent for six weeks out of respect for him. If we'd wanted to, we could have said things where he could be potentially ridiculed."

The atmosphere of mutual recrimination thickened as she denied "setting up" the former cabinet minister with Sally Anderson, a 29-year-old estate agent who sold the story of her "dates" with Mr Blunkett.

It was at a fateful dinner party at Annabel's nightclub that the Siddiqis introduced him to Ms Anderson, a relationship that ended in the offices of the publicist Max Clifford.

"David did seem quite keen," recalls Mrs Siddiqi, adding that her former friend was "quite lonely". She added: " If one is going to start to speculate on his ability to do his job correctly while remaining emotionally unstable, that's something I can't comment on."

For his part, Mr Blunkett also suggested there was more to be revealed about his resignation. "I come from a background where people said what they meant and were very straight with each other. I forgot for a moment that this isn't always the case - and I paid the price for it."

The paper gave its new pundit star billing on Wednesday: "David Blunkett. He's tough, he's outspoken - and he's in The Sun."

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