Blunkett will be judged in the court of public opinion

This may seem like rough justice, but in its canny way the press often gets it right
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Whether David Blunkett survives as Home Secretary (and I hope he does) will have nothing to do with any official dispensation laid down by the Prime Minister about the difference between the public and the personal lives of ministers. Nor will it have much to do with an expected clean bill of health from Sir Alan Budd.

Whether David Blunkett survives as Home Secretary (and I hope he does) will have nothing to do with any official dispensation laid down by the Prime Minister about the difference between the public and the personal lives of ministers. Nor will it have much to do with an expected clean bill of health from Sir Alan Budd.

That Sir Alan will rule in Mr Blunkett's favour is not in doubt. Without wanting to accuse Sir Alan of already preparing a whitewash, there is surely little chance of him finding any impropriety in Mr Blunkett's behaviour regarding the allegation of fast-tracking the lover's nanny's visa. Mr Blunkett would not have volunteered this inquiry if he were not sure of his ground. He may have been foolish but his record is one of extraordinarily disarming honesty. Lying may come naturally to some in New Labour, but it is not a trait I have detected where this particular minister is concerned.

What will determine Mr Blunkett's future, however, will be the judgement of the court of public opinion as led or reflected through the media. This may seem like rough justice, but in its canny, albeit anarchic, way the press often gets it right. So far, Mr Blunkett can afford to be optimistic on this front. For all the acres of coverage of the quixotic details of the affair with Mrs Quinn a concerted press witch-hunt does not appear to have developed against him. True, the Express has wondered if the distractions will get in the way of his duties but The Sun and others have come out aggressively in his favour. How come? Partly because they recognise strength in this bruiser of a politician. Its collective respect for Mr Blunkett has been longstanding, based - originally - on admiration and fascination at how he overcame his physical handicap.

His political opponents have also stopped short of calling for his resignation. What does David Davis do now when his own leader expresses the hope that Mr Blunkett will be exonerated? What this also shows is a tacit recognition, even by the Tories, that this is one unusual politician. Normally, if a minister resigns, the Opposition likes to claim the credit. If Mr Blunkett were to be forced out of office no one on the opposition benches will want to feel that they were in any way responsible. Mr Blunkett is also one of those few politicians who many are even prepared to take at his word. For Mark Oaten of the Liberal Democrats, an inquiry is unnecessary simply because the Home Secretary has denied the allegation by Mrs Quinn.

Most ministerial careers that end in tears are often due to ministers' failure to have previously built up a political no-claims bonus. Mr Blunkett has the maximum 70 per cent discount and has, hitherto, no points on his political driving licence.

Contrast this with the resignations of Peter Mandelson in 1998 and in 2001. While the first was probably unavoidable, that of January 2001 over the Hinduja passport affair was a gross miscarriage of justice - underlined by the findings of the Hammond Inquiry. But Mr Mandelson had built up personal enemies across the media, on his own Labour back benches and also on all the opposition benches. Somehow, in spite of being the arch manipulator, he engendered a visceral - and quite illogical - desire on the part of sections of the media to want only to see the worst in him. Yet for all the unfairness of it, his resignation was essential if the Government were to still pass itself off as "purer than pure" in the run-up to the looming general election.

Back in the Tory years it was again rough media justice that sorted out the strong from the weak, the competent from the incompetent, and the liked from the loathed. Of course, the idiocy of the "back to basics" saga also created unnecessary victims but the press could hardly be blamed for judging Tory ministers by the daft code implied by this lunatic policy. Times were very different. We were only just waking up to the novelty that, in the words of John Major, "being gay was not necessarily a bar to ministerial office".

David Mellor's resignation pre-dated the "back to basics" speech but he had failed to build up a body of protective support among the backbenchers who hounded him on the 1922 Committee. The press would not leave him alone, having its own axe to grind about his earlier comments about its "drinking in the last-chance saloon" and the implied threat of privacy laws to curb its excesses. Small wonder that he had few defenders in the media when he could have most done with them.

Breaking the law and misusing ministerial powers appear, even today, to require resignation. Sadly, lying to Parliament no longer seems to count - although misleading the media (witness Stephen Byers and Beverley Hughes) does seem to precipitate disaster. The media may be inadequate but it usually stumbles upon the crooks and rogues. Mr Blunkett's fate is ultimately in its, as much as Mr Blair's, hands.

mrbrown@pimlico.freeserve.co.uk

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