The Blunkett Saga

What we know, what we don't know, what we need to know
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Indy Politics

David Blunkett is risking the destruction of his political career over his failed love affair with a married woman.

David Blunkett is risking the destruction of his political career over his failed love affair with a married woman.

The Home Secretary's survival after fathering one and possibly two illegitimate children with Kimberly Quinn, publisher of The Spectator magazine, would have been unthinkable in British politics even a few years ago.

But, as Tony Blair acknowledged this week, public morality and private lives have been redefined by the affair. The scandal on which Mr Blunkett's career could be broken appears to be less about sex, more about an abuse of power.

Some of the affair, we know. Much of the background is unclear, based on leaks, anonymous briefings, and the use of personal relationships with the media. And there will be a fair degree we shall never know, for it is indeed a tangled web.

But there are overriding political issues: will Mr Blunkett survive? If not, does that impact on the Government and, further, the private conduct of public figures?

Mr Blunkett is alleged to have used the power and influence of his office to "fast-track" a visa for his lover's Filipina nanny, Leoncia Casalme. He denies the charge, now being investigated by Sir Alan Budd.

A second parliamentary inquiry is possible into more allegations that Mr Blunkett abused the trappings of power including giving a free first-class rail ticket to Mrs Quinn, at taxpayers' expense, for her to join him for a weekend tryst. As each day goes by, however, more allegations are made against Mr Blunkett from "friends" of Mrs Quinn, including the claim that he stationed police outside her £2m Mayfair mansion to guard against May Day rioters.

Mr Blunkett's ministerial friends have told this newspaper that he treated her as his spouse. The child she is expecting in February was, he believes, conceived in Corfu where they were seen acting like man and wife, accompanied by her son William, aged two, whom he also fathered.

The Home Secretary's friends privately say Mr Blunkett, who is divorced and has three grown-up sons, has almost literally taken leave of his senses over his love for the 44-year-old American.

Their love affair broke down earlier this year, when the vivacious Mrs Quinn, according to her friends, tired of his possessiveness. But Mr Blunkett would not give her up. He had become obsessed with the knowledge that William was his son. He obtained DNA evidence that proved he was the father, not her husband Stephen Quinn, publisher of Vogue . Mrs Quinn is seven months pregnant with another child, which Mr Blunkett also believes he has fathered.

Their affair began just four months after the former Kimberly Fortier married the millionaire Mr Quinn, her second husband. Mr Quinn is standing by his wife and has made it clear they are determined to fight Mr Blunkett over legal rights of access to the children.

The Home Secretary is proving equally resolute in wanting to fight the issue through the courts. His friends are appalled at that prospect and have urged him to drop the case.

Although this is a private matter, in years gone by such a tangled love life would have meant the political demise of any leading public figure. That it remained out of the public eye until August - and was pretty much ignored by most of the media until the last week - is testament to the changed times, and a growing consensus that private matters are just that.

The feud was propelled to the political centre stage five days ago by the detailed revelations from friends of Mrs Quinn in The Sunday Telegraph - part of the group for whom she works. The allegations were supported by a leaked e-mail from Mrs Quinn claiming Mr Blunkett had speeded up her nanny's application form for a visa.

Here, the private and public lives collided, turning a personal crisis into a political scandal.

Whether Mr Blunkett intervened to speed Ms Casalme's visa appears to be the key to whether the Home Secretary survives. Mrs Quinn's "friends" supplied two letters from the immigration authorities showing circumstantial evidence that her claims are true - one warned her nanny her application could take a year and another, 19 days later, confirming it had been approved.

Mr Blunkett confirmed he checked her application - it was read to him - but he insists he played no further part. He fiercely disputes that he "fast-tracked" the application.

If a paper trail linking him to the immigration office is discovered, his fate would be sealed. His enemies believe there is circumstantial evidence that implicates him. Why was Ms Casalme's visa approved just 19 days after she was warned that the process could last a year? And why was she granted a visa before the usual four-year qualifying period?

There are other uncomfortable questions for the Home Secretary. Why did he allow senior civil servants to be caught in the mess? Was he cavalier in interpreting the complex rules preventing ministers from allowing friends to travel at taxpayers' expense? Then there is the unseemly question of how mired Mr Blunkett's hands have become in the battle he is fighting. How much of the story has he leaked to try to pressure her into granting him access to the child he is certain is his? Above all, how can the man responsible for the heart of the Government's legislative programme concentrate on his job as his private torment is laid bare?

In the end, his survival may come down whether Mr Blunkett retains the support of Mr Blair and his colleagues. They are already asking: what does the judgement he has shown in what should be a private matter say about his judgement as Home Secretary? Already, there are signs of unease that his determination to pursue Mrs Quinn through the courts could prove a fatal distraction.

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