Pressure mounts on Blunkett as MPs call for resignation

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Indy Politics

The embattled Work and Pensions Secretary looked increasingly isolated as Labour MPs went public last night with calls for him to resign. Although Downing Street insisted he enjoyed Mr Blair's "full support" and could still do his job, a growing number of ministers believe he will be forced out by a "drip, drip effect" if the controversy continues to overshadow his work.

Mr Blunkett was stung by the revelation yesterday that he failed to clear a third outside job with the body that advises former ministers on outside appointments. After resigning as Home Secretary last December, he was paid between £15,000 and £20,000 by the Organisation for Research and Technology (ORT), an international charity, which hopes to win a £46m government grant to build a Jewish secondary school in New Barnet in London. He faces questions from the Tories about whether he played any part in securing the grant.

The charity, also known as World ORT, said: "David Blunkett assisted World ORT, an educational and vocational training charity, with our international work and future development in the early part of this year."

Mr Blunkett did not mention his third job when he discussed his future with the Prime Minister on Monday. Downing Street said the disclosure of the post did not affect Mr Blair's support for Mr Blunkett because he had made the "same mistake" as over two other outside posts. No 10 insisted that no disciplinary action would be taken, even though Mr Blunkett admitted breaching the code of conduct for ministers, because this was due to a " misunderstanding".

Mr Blunkett's announcement that his three eldest sons would sell their shares in DNA Bioscience, another company he worked for, failed to end the controversy engulfing him. Although acquitted by Mr Blair, who is the arbiter of the ministerial code, Mr Blunkett could face a full-scale inquiry by Parliament's standards watchdog, Sir Philip Mawer.

David Davies, a Tory backbencher, has asked him to investigate whether Mr Blunkett broke the code of conduct for MPs, which says that all members should "avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict".

Mr Davies said: "The whole thing stinks to me and if Tony Blair is not prepared to launch an inquiry, we as MPs should launch our own. There is a clear case to answer."

Mr Blunkett will be in the spotlight today when he is questioned by a committee of MPs about the work of his department, while Mr Blair could face Tory fire during Prime Minister's Questions over his refusal to punish his cabinet colleague.

A defiant Mr Blunkett vowed that he would not be driven out of office. He told the Sheffield Star newspaper: "The pressure is not continuing. The Prime Minister has made his decision and no matter what the Conservative Party want, I am not resigning. This is a straight political battle with the Conservative Party and their allies in the media and decency. I have done nothing wrong at any stage. I have been transparent about everything I have done."

Sir Alistair Graham, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said the Work and Pensions Secretary had "undoubtedly" committed a breach in the ministerial code of conduct by failing to consult the advisory committee.

He said the controversy would fuel the perception that "politicians were in it for themselves". He added: "Where a minister is seen investing £15,000 to possibly attract at a later date £300,000, that can't apply to most ordinary people and therefore he did have a heavy duty to ensure there was no conflict of interest. Someone of David Blunkett's experience should have known that."

Ian Gibson, a senior Labour backbencher, warned that Mr Blunkett's position was becoming untenable and that he was damaging the Government and Labour Party. "It was a very daft thing to do and if it was me, I would think about taking an early bath. I can't see that it is sustainable really," he said.

Mr Blair's role in the affair was increasingly under scrutiny as the Tories said he could not afford to ignore the continued breaches of the ministerial code. Chris Grayling, the shadow leader of the Commons, said: "I am astonished that Mr Blunkett has broken the ministerial code on yet another occasion. This is getting beyond a joke. Tony Blair cannot claim the ministerial code is important and fail to act over these breaches."

Mr Grayling wrote to Mr Blair asking him what action he intended to take against Mr Blunkett. Downing Street dismissed as "not new" reports yesterday that the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments had told Mr Blunkett on three occasions that he should consult it about any outside jobs - pointing to the weekend disclosure in The Independent on Sunday.

A turbulent year

27 November 2004: Blunkett denies abusing his position as Home Secretary to fast-track an application for a visa from the nanny of his lover, Kimberly Quinn.

28 November: Sir Alan Budd begins an independent review.

6 December: Blunkett revealed to havemade critical comments about colleagues to a biographer.

15 December: Blunkett quits.

21 December: Budd inquiry links Blunkett to the nanny getting leave to remain much more quickly than normal.

January 2005: Blunkett takes a job with Indepen Consulting, before the three-month gap recommended by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

2 March: Lord Mayhew of Twysden, committee chairman, reminds Mr Blunkett that he should contact them before taking up a job.

21 April: Blunkett becomes a DNA Bioscience director, buying a £15,000 stake.

6 May: Blunkett made Work and Pensions Secretary after election. He resigns from DNA Bioscience and puts shares in trust for sons.

11 September: Former Metropolitan Police chief Lord Stevens says Blunkett had leaked stories against him.

16 September: Blunkett denies abusing his position when Education Secretary to find out whether his son was affected by an A-level marking fiasco.

24 September: A relationship with the estate agent Sally Anderson, 29, is revealed - "platonic", says a spokesman.

16 October: Tories call for an inquiry over Blunkett's links with DNA Bioscience after Anderson raised questions about it.

23 October: Blunkett's sons revealed to have shares in the firm.

30 October: The Independent on Sunday reveals that he did not consult the appointments committee before taking up DNA Bioscience post.

31 October: Blunkett says his sons will sell the shares.

1 November: Blunkett revealed to have not consulted the committee about a third post, with the charity ORT.