Hardliner as sentimentalist: Blunkett hears the echo of a sensitive man

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Indy Politics

As Home Secretary he was known as a hardliner uninhibited by sentiment in his pursuit of reforms ranging from curbs on asylum to anti-terror laws.

As Home Secretary he was known as a hardliner uninhibited by sentiment in his pursuit of reforms ranging from curbs on asylum to anti-terror laws.

But David Blunkett has been using his new-found leisure to add to a growing collection of his own poetry, a pastime that reveals his more sensitive side.

Yesterday, the former home secretary, who resigned from the Cabinet in December, unveiled one of his own verses on national radio and won instant critical acclaim.

Judging, perhaps, that it was too soon to follow in the footsteps of Shakespeare, Byron or Goethe by committing to verse the recent tribulations of his private life, he instead performed a single-stanza poem, "Echo".

Helping to launch a poll on poetry pertaining to election time by Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Blunkett offered his own brief but sardonic take on his fellow members of Parliament.

It read: "Too much I read of that which I have written and if not written, wished I had. Too oft I hear the echo reflected from the wall that I myself have built and failed to recognise the words that bounce back in my face."

Mr Blunkett, who resigned pending an investigation into the granting of a visa to the nanny of his former lover Kimberly Quinn, acknowledged the therapeutic properties of writing poetry "in times of crisis".

"You tend to write either at moments of grief or in moments of great joy," he said. "I think you feel that hurt or harshness inside, and there are people who write in that way. Ted Hughes did. But I find that poetry doesn't come out in that vein. My love of poetry is gentleness and more mystic."

He went on to explain the meaning of "Echo", which he wrote on entering the House of Commons in 1992. "We believe that people are speaking to us when actually what we are hearing is our own voice, our own ideas and thoughts coming back. In the election we need to avoid that at all costs."

Fiona Sampson, the editor of Poetry Review, praised the author for producing a poem of topicality and insight which had been informed by his blindness. "It is obviously written by someone who is visually impaired, because it is about the sound of words," Ms Sampson said.

She was complimentary about its brevity. "It shows rather than tells us something about the world - and that is precisely what poetry should do."

Mr Blunkett attributes his love of poetry to a teenage encounter with an inspirational teacher. Margaret Waddington took an interest in him after he was able to identify the author of a poem during a lesson at the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

His 1995 autobiography On A Clear Day contains three of his poems, including descriptions of the Wimbledon tennis tournament and a drinks party at the home of the late Labour leader John Smith.

Remaining on message even in his preferred literature, Mr Blunkett gave, as his election verse, a little-known poem written in 1848 by John Greenleaf Whittier exhorting the electorate to vote. "It is a cry for someone to be a citizen and cast their vote, so I rather liked it," Mr Blunkett said.

Politicians and their hidden talents

ANN WIDDECOMBE

The former shadow home secretary and Tory backbencher has published two novels. The second, An Act of Treachery, charts an affair between a French girl and a Nazi officer. Miss Widdecombe said she understands romance although she is a spinster and virgin.

AUSTIN MITCHELL

Mitchell is a keen amateur photographer who offered to photograph weapons caches of both sides during an impasse in the Northern Ireland peace process. Photography is banned in the House, but he has special dispensation to take pictures from the gallery.

PETE WISHART

The Scottish Nationalist MP for North Tayside was keyboard player in Runrig and Big Country. He is the only MP to have appeared on Top of the Pops. He has teamed up with Labour members Ian Cawsey and Kevin Brennan, as well as the Tory MP Greg Knight to form MP4, a rock band.

PAUL MARSDEN

He uses verse to criticise government policy and has 19 of his best poems on his website, entitled "Waiting for Westminster". He has been criticised for couplets such as: "Breasts rising as I feel the urge to bite/Eyes stalking its prey, she's relishing the fight."

The poem

'ECHO'

Too much I read of that which I have written and if not written, wished I had. Too oft I hear the echo reflected from the wall that I myself have built and failed to recognise the words that bounce back in my face.

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