As he embarks on the long and winding road to political retirement, David Blunkett heightens the sense of loss by reminding us of his stoical resistance to the lure of hysterical self-pity.
Blunkers has been unfairly accused in the past of a tendency to overreact. You will recall how, when he was Home Secretary in 2003, Heathrow was ringed with tanks for what struck some as little more reason than to alarm the public before a general election (an army officer involved later told me that the personnel were unarmed). He later claimed that it was he who asked the military to remove the tanks – and however bemusing the notion of such an operation taking place without prior Home Office approval, we are happy to take him at his word.
Today, as he prepares to step down as an MP next May, we find him showing the temperate judgment to be expected of a man whom Mr Tony Blair recalled to the Cabinet in 2005 on the novel grounds that the sinecure of Work and Pensions Secretary might “help him sort his head out”.
Appearing on R4’s Any Questions on Friday, the dear old chap contemplated the seemliness of the sentences handed down to Rolf Harris and Andy Coulson. “I just have to say on this that the physical assaults, and therefore the emotional damage that’s been done, by Rolf Harris and others,” he replied, “is equalled by the emotional damage that’s been done to those who were hacked and those close to them, who have experienced the most terrible trauma over the last 10-12 years.”
The translation of “those close to them” – given that while messages of his to mistress Kimberly Quinn were intercepted, Blunkers’s own phone never was – is “me”.
No one could doubt the distress caused to him, any more than doubt him as an inspiration to those born with a grave disability.
However, directly equivocating between his torment at the hands of a newspaper group (one for which he continued writing his Sun column after phone hacking became public knowledge) and that of the women who suffered irreversible psychological damage at Harris’s hands, seems insensitive at best, and cloyingly narcissistic at worst.
Rolf Harris: A life in pictures
Rolf Harris: A life in pictures
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Rolf Harris in 'Stars on Sunday' TV Programme (1969 -1979)
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Rolf Harris and his daughter painting a wall together, 1967
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Rolf Harris on the 'Rolf Harris Show', 1973
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Rolf Harris in 1968
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Rolf Harris smiles during the 'The Rolf Harris Show' in 1973
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Rolf Harris with art book he wrote for children in London, 1978
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Australian entertainer Rolf Harris gets ready to blow his didgeridoo to promote a concert at Central Hall, Westminster, staged to raise money for research into cancer in children at the Royal Marsden Hospital.
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Rolf Harris sketches a picture of Bambi, 1986
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Rolf Harris and his wife at the David Frost's Society Party in London, 2001
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Rolf Harris performing at Glastonbury 2010
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Rolf Harris performs in 'The Rolf Harris Show' in 1973
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"Rolf Harris" book signing in London, 2010
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Rolf Harris with his portrait of the Queen at a London art gallery in 2010
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Rolf Harris at the Daily Mirror's Pride Of Britain Awards 2012 in London
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Rolf Harris and his wife Alwen attend the Press & VIP preview at The Chelsea Flower Show at Royal Hospital Chelsea in London, 2010
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Rolf Harris surrounded by media leaves City of Westminster Magistrates Courts in London, 2013
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Entertainer Rolf Harris and his wife Alwen Hughes (L) arrive at Southwark Crown Court in central London, 6 May, 2014
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Rolf Harris is surrounded by members of the media as he leaves Westminster Magistrates Court, in central London, 2013
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Rolf Harris arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London, 27 June 2014
Strauss’s absolute linguistic precision must be recognised
A miserable summer of sport (the football team, the British Lions in New Zealand, Andy Murray, etc) gives rise to ironic speculation about who on earth will win, come December, when they’re handing out the Sports Personality of the Year trophy.
The speculation ends here. The SPOTY for 2014 must be Andrew Strauss, for referring to Kevin Pietersen as “an absolute Jeremy Hunt” (I bowdlerise with the traditional rhyming slang) in a snippet of commentary that went out live to Sky’s Australian viewers.
His subsequent and “profuse” apology to Pietersen cannot be held against him. It may have been neither an elegant nor an original character analysis. But someone had to say it publicly, albeit inadvertently, and who better than the man whose misfortune it was to be Pietersen’s captain for so long? God bless and spare you, Straussy, on behalf of us all.
More medical marvels from the Mail
The award for Extremely Sensible Daily Mail Headline Of the Week goes to a gem inspired by the gloriously defiant performance of the American goalie in the country’s 2-1 defeat to Belgium in their World Cup last-16 match: “Was Tim Howard’s incredible display of goalkeeping down to his TOURETTE’S?”
It explained: “Experts say condition could have boosted self-control and timing.” We await the Mail’s explanation for the equally impressive displays from the custodians of Germany, Costa Rica and Algeria. Not to mention the headline: “Did David Seaman pathetically let in Ronaldinho’s free kick in the 2002 quarter-final because he had NO neurological disorder? Experts say a Tourette’s sufferer would have caught ball, somersaulted three times to edge of box, and punted it 100 yards into Brazilian net to give England 2-1 lead.”
When taking offence, some of us don’t measure up
If there is one commodity of which we are desperately short, it’s the taking of grievous offence. Another sign of the disturbing outrage-deficit in national life came last week courtesy of Mark Lawrenson, that self-styled Dorothy Parker of football punditry, who said a Swiss striker’s shot was so feeble that he should have been wearing a skirt. Only 174 people took the time and trouble to complain.
In the light of this growing problem, hats off to John Bercow for doing his bit to plug the hole by likening jokes about short stature to racist and homophobic abuse. “Does it personally affect me?” the Tom Thumb of the Speaker’s Chair asks himself. “Not at all.”
It may not affect him, but it certainly offends me, so I pledge to come to his defence with an online petition demanding the firing of whoever next alludes to the munchkin puffpall of swaggering pomposity by reference to his height.
From Tony, a valuable lesson in collective blame
In the weekly, internal Sun on Sunday battle for intellectual supremacy, Louise Mensch suffers a rare defeat to Tony Parsons. The unofficial Ukip spokesperson, who moonlights as a novelist and columnist, addresses the discovery of a dog hanged by the neck from railings in Dudley. “And we still have the nerve,” he writes, “to call ourselves a nation of animal lovers.”
And when you think about it as deeply as Tony clearly has, it is a nerve, isn’t it? It’s as much a nerve as now thinking of ourselves as anything other than a nation of didgeridoo-playing, expat Australian child abusers who once painted a portrait of the Queen.