A tragic hero in the real sense, a great man sunk by a destructive flaw

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Withal he is a man, and what a tragic fall. I do hope that David Hare won't make a narrative play of modern politics of it. For this is a classic Shakespearean story of a tragic flaw in a great man's person affecting events. It has a touch of the Othello, except that she killed him, viciously. "He loved not wisely, but too well", indeed.

Withal he is a man, and what a tragic fall. I do hope that David Hare won't make a narrative play of modern politics of it. For this is a classic Shakespearean story of a tragic flaw in a great man's person affecting events. It has a touch of the Othello, except that she killed him, viciously. "He loved not wisely, but too well", indeed.

Blunkett was head and shoulders above most of the mediocrities, pygmies or placemen on the two front benches. A real man, warts and all, although I disagreed profoundly with the rigidity about measuring standards that he inherited and strengthened in the school curriculum when he was at Education (so standards had to be produced that could be measured). And I disliked his tough-guy law and order measures at the Home Office.

But he was not playing electoral politics like some of the Prime Minister's advisers. He was freely reflecting the gut feelings of the Sheffield working-class, not just of his youth but those, despite his recent careless high flying, to whom he is still close. Guardian liberals find "the people" a problem. I do, more cautiously.

The man is to be respected greatly, even despite these two big failings. They were of the tough Blunkett; but I also knew the tender Blunkett - else I would not have served him since 1997. But I served his tender side by keeping my eyes riveted on two particular tasks and not arguing with him on all those other things that everybody else, the lawyers, the educationalists and all, argued against him with more knowledge than I.

He asked me to chair an Advisory Group to bring citizenship for the first time into the English school curriculum. I did not ask him. He knew of my views on this and gave me and my committee a remarkably free rein. The result was not boring old factual civics, but a curriculum to incite and require participation in the school and the community and a discussion of real issues. He egged us on.

A contradiction to the rigidity of the rest of the curriculum? Yes. Puzzling? Yes. But these are the two sides of the man, the tough and the tender.

When he got to the Home Office he asked me to chair an Advisory Group on Language and Citizenship education for immigrants. I disliked the far too tough treatment of asylum-seekers, and said so on platforms. But he was genuine and passionate that those accepted as refugees, and also the number of those coming in with work permits, driven by the needs of our economy, should be helped to settle into Britain, practically and compassionately.

There is a restrictive rule in the Department of Education that free language tuition under adult literacy schemes cannot benefit immigrants until they have been in the country three years.

On the advice of my committee he strove to remove this, but failed: the Treasury did not come up with the additional money.

Policy or personality? - so close to those events, but I know not. The Scottish Parliament removed the rule in Scotland where the obvious priority is to help immigrants towards integration at the earliest possible moment, and it is also a priority to help women learn English so that they can integrate with the wider society, whether from home or in the workplace.

Also in the Home Office, Blunkett built up and enthused an Active Communities Directorate who try hard, even if under-funded, to reach down to help community groups and to teach citizenship skills. He has himself written two pamphlets on civil renewal, with more than a dash of communitarianism about them.

All this the press has missed. They only see the tough Blunkett. I worked with the tender Blunkett, concentrating entirely, even when meeting him privately, on our common obsession with active citizenship. And he is tough and tender personally. Too tender and trusting to a conniving and confused woman of the world, and now tough for his parental rights - at such a cost.

He will return - too powerful a voice to be back-benched for ever. He had to resign. It was a grievous fault. But those on both front benches who say that it is a fault so great as to render him unfit for high office ever again, they are opportunistic, sanctimonious Pharisees. Most of them look as if they have never been in love. Most of them look quite unlovable.

Professor Sir Bernard Crick is author of 'In Defence of Politics' and 'George Orwell: A Life'

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