I am quite happy to be governed by an old fool. But not this one

We know that anything can happen when there is a lightning strike by what PG Wodehouse calls the divine pash
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As it happens, I know the three people principally involved in the Blunkett affair, though none of them at all well. Mr David Blunkett I had dinner with at a party conference some years ago, with two other journalists. He was touchy and argumentative, and made a great fuss about the claret - smelling it, sipping it and swilling it around - which would have seemed excessive even to the late Roy Jenkins. I attributed both his aggression and his conspicuous winemanship to his blindness and to the hard times which he had endured earlier in his life. But I had no wish to repeat the experience of dinner with Mr Blunkett and have not done so since.

As it happens, I know the three people principally involved in the Blunkett affair, though none of them at all well. Mr David Blunkett I had dinner with at a party conference some years ago, with two other journalists. He was touchy and argumentative, and made a great fuss about the claret - smelling it, sipping it and swilling it around - which would have seemed excessive even to the late Roy Jenkins. I attributed both his aggression and his conspicuous winemanship to his blindness and to the hard times which he had endured earlier in his life. But I had no wish to repeat the experience of dinner with Mr Blunkett and have not done so since.

Mrs Kimberly Quinn I have met more often, at The Spectator's offices or at various functions held under the paper's auspices. She was then known as Kimberly Fortier and was described as its "publisher". In fact she was the powerful and efficient business manager. Quite why we have had to import this US-style nomenclature into our journalism I do not know - her much-tried husband Mr Stephen Quinn is described as the "publisher" of Vogue - but so it is. She was dark, vivacious, flirtatious and rather pushy: an attractive woman, if you like that sort of thing.

Her saintly husband, Mr Quinn, I do not know. The third party to whom I have referred is Sir Alan Budd. I have met him several times, either at a friend's house or at The Queen's College, Oxford, where he is Provost and I was the guest of another senior member of the college. He was elected or appointed to his splendid position, I conjecture, because the Fellows thought he could make some money for them - the criterion whereby the heads of most Oxford and Cambridge colleges now secure their posts.

Alas, being Chief Economic Adviser to the Treasury, as Sir Alan was under Mr John Major, is no safe guarantee of the possession of this useful ability: if anything, perhaps, the reverse. Sir Alan is on record as saying that Black Wednesday, when the UK was expelled from the European exchange-rate mechanism, was really a day of joy; or words to this effect. And he may well be right. Who can tell? Who indeed! The question does not diminish Sir Alan's qualities of being modest, pleasant and quite without side.

The question, rather, is why he is taking on this new job at all. It is, as far as one can see, to pronounce on whether Mr Blunkett acted improperly before Mrs Quinn's then nanny (who has now left her employment) was given permission to stay in this country. I write "as far as one can see" because Sir Alan's precise remit has not so far been published; or, if it has, the papers have not seen fit to publish it. There is no very compelling reason for him to agree to become involved in clearing up this particular dog's basket at all, apart from his friendship with Mr John Gieve, a senior civil servant at the Home Office, who has already intervened in the case, having interviewed Mrs Quinn on at least one occasion. Why should Sir Alan give up his time to help get Mr Gieve out of a hole, not to mention Mr Blunkett and Mr Tony Blair as well?

For one thing, he is not an expert in the area involved, that of immigration and residence. He is a distinguished economist, a very different matter. I have always been sceptical of the automatic response: send for a judge. There are people who are not judges but nevertheless possess the specialist knowledge which most judges lack and which Sir Alan lacks also.

And, for another thing, it is by no means self-evident that the sole or even the most important question in this affair is whether Mr Blunkett intervened improperly or at all over Mrs Quinn's nanny. Time and again I have had occasion to point out that those sex-and-politics cases which enliven our polity every few years or so immediately turn into a game of Hunt-the-Issue. It is never sex but always something else, as it is supposed to be here. The political classes and the papers have, with a few dissentients, decided that the issue here is the nanny: from Lord Lucan onwards, a perilous presence in our national life.

The Home Office or No 10, perhaps both, originally tried to make out that Mrs Quinn's taxpayers' ticket to Doncaster did not constitute an issue because she was Mr Blunkett's "partner" - or because the dishonesty, if there was any, was committed in his capacity of MP rather than of Minister of the Crown. Mr Blunkett has himself apparently realised that these arguments will not wash and has offered to repay the money involved, some £200, because he had made a "mistake": though precisely what misapprehension he was labouring under remains a mystery.

More worrying to me is the involvement of Mr Gieve and another Home Office heavy at various stages of the proceedings. It is, obviously, difficult to deal with notes, letters, emails and so forth if you are blind. But the roles played by Mr Blunkett's officials, even according to the agreed version of events, seem to go much further in protecting a minister's private life than the parts allotted to them by any manual of correct civil service practice. In particular, if the two heavies descended on Mrs Quinn and demanded she sign a document saying that her marriage was a sham (which they deny), it strikes me as a more serious abuse of power than anything to do with the nanny.

All this has not come out because of a press which is eternally vigilant or cruelly intrusive, according to taste, but because the parties concerned wished it to come out. Mrs Quinn wanted to be relieved of Mr Blunkett's persistent attentions; while Mr Blunkett, spurned, miserable and angry, wanted access to the child he and Mrs Quinn had already had, accompanied by a further court-imposed test to establish that the child was his. Presumably the same would apply to the child that Mrs Quinn is carrying.

Whether Mr Blunkett went to the News of the World in August is unclear. There is circumstantial evidence that the paper was given advance warning that she would be calling on him at a certain time on a certain day: there was a photographer present to record the event. Then nothing much happened, except that Mrs Quinn's identity was established. It took Mrs Quinn's revelations in The Spectator's associated paper, The Sunday Telegraph, to turn the affair into a major scandal: much as, in different circumstances, it was Ms Sara Keays's interview with The Times which led directly to the belated resignation of Lord Parkinson.

Mr Blunkett is still with us. We all know - we have been told often enough - that there's no fool like an old fool. We also know that anything can happen when there is a lightning strike by what PG Wodehouse calls the divine pash. For myself, I am quite happy to live under a Home Secretary who is an adulterer. I am even prepared, just, to tolerate an old fool in the post. But I feel distinctly uneasy about the prospect of being governed by a complete bloody idiot.

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