Focus: Call my bluff...

A new version of the traditional panel game starring David Blunkett, Kimberly Quinn, Sir Alan Budd and, introducing, our mystery guest, the 'Fourth Man'. In the chair, Simon Hoggart.
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Indy Politics

As the Blunkett affair unfolds it comes increasingly to resemble the time-honoured panel game in which prominent celebrities make outlandish claims and others are invited to judge their credibility...

As the Blunkett affair unfolds it comes increasingly to resemble the time-honoured panel game in which prominent celebrities make outlandish claims and others are invited to judge their credibility...

David Blunkett

The claim: "Trust, plain-speaking and straight-talking ... matter so much to me as a politician and as a man."

The reality: It's the morning after his former lover Kimberly Quinn has accused him of repeatedly abusing his public office for private advantage, and David Blunkett goes on the warpath.

He knows the most toxic of the allegations is that he helped to fast-track a visa application for Quinn's nanny, Leoncia Casalme, so he sets up an inquiry, which Tony Blair is confident will exonerate him.

Things pretty quickly start to go awry.

First he denies any involvement whatsoever, then, when evidence of the application's extraordinarily quick turnaround surfaces, he says he brought her application form into his office and asked officials to read it to him.

Sadly this isn't true either - it turns out that it was a letter warning her to expect a 12-month wait that he took to work.

Next aides deny claims that he waved the letter about as he berated officials about a backlog of applications. Oops, it turns out that this is to be his principal defence to the Budd inquiry. Still, he denies directly intervening in her case and no one can prove otherwise.

But here comes a "killer email". To everyone's surprise a damning exchange emerges between his office and the immigration department. "Just wondering if you have any update on the settlement (domestic worker) case I faxed through to you the other day?" wonders his private secretary. The next day she hears back from the top man at the office of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND): "Sorted - she has been granted ILR [indefinite leave to remain] - papers will be sent to her shortly ... They pulled it out of the queue and made a decision - (no special favours, only what they would normally do but quicker)."

It's the end, but the departing Blunkett has got one more change of story: the letter to Ms Casalme "inadvertently" found its way into a bundle of official papers sent to his office while he was in Wales and his officials wrongly thought he meant them to express the case.

Verdict: Bluff

Kimberly Quinn

The claim: "I wasn't after revenge at all," the 44-year-old publisher told her friends at The Sunday Telegraph last week. "All I wanted him to do was leave me alone. I never thought it would come to this."

The reality: Kimberly is in a terrible pickle. She's broken off a three-year affair with the Home Secretary but he is being very difficult about a child he believes is his. She just wants to get on with life and forgiving second husband Stephen but "old Beardy", as her friends call Blunkett, is dragging her through the family courts. Time for a briefing war. (If Mrs Quinn was eschewing vengeance when she gave evidence to the Budd inquiry from her hospital bed, one is forced to wonder what she's like when crossed.)

She tells Sir Alan Budd, an economics professor, that Blunkett had said of the infamous letter, "Give it to me, I will take care of it", and had said when the visa came through, "I'm glad I could help."

For good measure the Budd report records that his former lover asked for two other cases to be taken into consideration - helping her to get an American passport for her son and visa to travel to Vienna for Ms Casalme. So, according to Mrs Quinn, leaking the original allegations and giving detailed evidence to the subsequent official inquiry was just her way of letting her former lover know it was time to cool his heels.

As even her friend Nicholas Coleridge, head of Condé Nast, observes, it isn't necessarily the best strategy. "The only downside of all this is that now Old Beardy is out of a job, he's going to be working full time on the legal case." One newspaper reports Mrs Quinn has a "devastating" dossier of notes and recollections about their three-year affair which she will publish at the end of court hostilities. Not, of course, in a score-settling way.

Verdict: Bluff

Sir Alan Budd

The claim: "I received full co-operation," Sir Alan concluded when he delivered his report on Tuesday. "I do not believe that there was any attempt to destroy, conceal or withhold documents or information."

The reality: Oh dear, the Government wants you, at no notice, to hold an inquiry with no legal powers into claims that the Home Secretary has been up to no good. And they want the "right" result within a fortnight. The spectres of mi'lords Hutton and Butler loom, mournfully, from the shadows of long Whitehall nights spent going through phone records and interviewing strangely forgetful officials.

Hold on, what's this - another "killer email"! One ex-Home Secretary and reputation intact. But the press wants more - it wants to know if Blunkett did intervene. The vital document - one that would prove whether he was raising the case as a general example of poor performance or seeking an individual favour, remains lost in the depths of the IND's appropriately named Lunar House.

Tantalisingly, we know from phone records that there is a fax from Blunkett's private office to the office of the director general of the IND on 16.59 on April 29 - the day after the famous nanny letter was "inadvertently" included in documents sent by Blunkett to his officials. Another fax arrives in Croydon two minutes later. Two days on and another fax chugs its way through from Blunkett's inner sanctum, and the next day yet one more arrive. Amazingly, all four faxes from the Home Secretary's private office to the most senior immigration official have vanished.

Verdict: Bluff

Simon Hoggart

The claim: "I have never had an affair with Kimberly. I am amazed that I have been named in this way," The Guardian's sketch-writer, BBC News Quiz chairman and Spectator wine columnist spluttered as the News of the World thudded on to the newsstands last Saturday night.

The reality: The phone rings at Hoggart Villas in smart suburbs in south-west London and a heavy voice says: "We know you had an affair with Kimberly Quinn." "This could destroy my life," is his first, and most accurate, reaction. For the next few hours he denies all, as the News of the World reports, "They had sex together frequently. One day she'd be with Hoggart, then with Blunkett on another." Then Patricia White, wife of The Guardian's political editor, Michael White, apparently persuades him to come clean. He releases a statement saying: "Contrary to the impression I gave last night we did have a sexual relationship ... the relationship became very infrequent indeed."

Verdict: Bluff

The Fourth Man

Claim: "I am not the fourth man," says Alan Watkins, Independent on Sunday columnist and doyen of political commentators.

The reality: Ever since the Daily Mail raised the prospect of a "fourth man" in Kimberly Quinn's life, speculation over his identity has been rife.

The paper breathlessly reports: "A veteran journalist and household name is said to have visited the £2m London home of the Spectator publisher and, she told friends, once helped her fix a toilet seat."

Alan Watkins would today like to make clear that he has always resisted the fair Mrs Quinn. "It was at The Spectator," he said. "She said something like, 'What is the matter with you, Alan? I am an attractive woman, aren't I?' I think she thought me curmudgeonly, that I thought of her as a secretary - which of course she was.

"Anyway, she's not my type."

Mr Watkins is not alone in claiming to have rebuffed the beautiful American. A famous comic tells the story of how, sharing a taxi with Mrs Quinn, she slipped off her shoes and, taking out a pair of stilettos, said, "These are my 'f*** me' shoes. Would you like to take me home?" The unkind have suggested that she saw in the celebrity, a gifted impersonator, a short-cut in her campaign to seduce famous men.

Verdict: Double bluff

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