The only true path to virtue involves taking the occasional ethical liberty

Of those preparing to take a stand on principle, is there one who has never done a favour for a chum?
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The burning question is why it takes a year or a cheque to get a visa when you are not lucky enough to know someone who knows someone who knows a home secretary. Why doesn't it take 19 days, whoever you are? Why must everything that proceeds from the dark heart of officialdom demoralise us? Are we not of the same human family? There's a backlog, they say. Try that on with your tax or VAT return. "Sorry, no can do for a year. I have a backlog."

The burning question is why it takes a year or a cheque to get a visa when you are not lucky enough to know someone who knows someone who knows a home secretary. Why doesn't it take 19 days, whoever you are? Why must everything that proceeds from the dark heart of officialdom demoralise us? Are we not of the same human family? There's a backlog, they say. Try that on with your tax or VAT return. "Sorry, no can do for a year. I have a backlog."

Myself, I won't give a monkey's if it does turn out that Blunkett assisted his lover's nanny. Indeed I'll be disappointed in him if it turns out that he didn't. Isn't this what we are supposed to do if we can - lend a hand? Isn't it something the great religions of the world enjoin upon us? Help a friend in need?

It would be better if he helped us all, gave the birch and then the boot to every spitefully slumberous official at the Home Office, I agree, but a start's a start. In the meantime, of those preparing to take a stand on principle, is there one who's never done a favour for a chum, never dropped a word into an ear, never shared a chauffeur for an hour, never put a lover on a spouse's ticket? God help him, in that case.

They occur in Shakespeare from time to time, the whited ones, the Angelos for whom the letter of the law is sacrosanct, and they are always revealed to be morally despicable at the last. We like a man who has a little give in him ethically. In fact, we more than like him, we know that his is the only true path to virtue.

But these, anyway, are trifles light as air in a drama which grows more tragic by the day. Love is love. I know the expectation: men in high office are meant to keep their heads, however much in love they are; but as in principle so in passion, it's flexibility that makes a man fit to govern, whether what he's governing is his country or himself. Flexibility, not laxity. "Blunkett in Love" would be a good title for a light comedy of indiscretion, but what's been striking about this amour as the details of it have unfolded, and in so far as we are possessed (and entitled to be possessed) of the truth, is how little of lightness or laxity there has been in it.

Forget that romping boy, Boris, who is cursed with looking like someone out of the Beano even though, for all we know to the contrary, his heart is breaking. Blunkett weighs in much heavier. For good and ill, he has always been a forbidding and astringent politician, strict in his pronouncements, rugged and even rough in battle. Not a man you would tangle with lightly. And clearly not a man you would fall in love with lightly either.

Reports in the sewer press suggest that Kimberly Quinn grew frightened of him towards the end of their relationship, pulled back from the intensity of his attentions. Cruel if correct, since there could never have been a moment when intensity was not what was on offer. By all accounts she was a vivacious socialite - Kimberly Fortier when Blunkett met her - and you can hear in the contrasting poetry of their names something of what must originally have drawn them to each other: the international effervescence of a Kimberly Fortier, the northern asperity of a David Blunkett. Think Wuthering Heights - "My love for Blunkett resembles the eternal rocks beneath ..." Think Blunkett hammering in the Yorkshire night at Kimberly's closed window.

And then there was, there is, the blindness. The moment this story broke, I found myself reaching for a sentence I half remembered from Nabokov's sadistic fable Laughter in the Dark. Going looking for it, even as Blunkett himself was talking about "dark" forces being out to get him, felt like a grim descent into an unaccustomed seriousness.

The sentence itself, describing the effects of a sudden blindness, tells of precisely this descent. "The impenetrable black shroud in which Albinus now lived infused an element of austerity and even of nobility into his thoughts and feelings." Though that offers to delineate the blind man's inner world, it gestures the more at the effect of blindness on those outside it. Our sense - the sense of the seeing - that there attaches to unseeing a dignity we do not customarily possess. Blindness solemnises the air around, and commands, whatever the dangers of special pleading, our reverence. It recalls us to the gravity of things. Not for nothing does mythology give the blind unusual powers of prophecy and wisdom.

That Blunkett would not thank us for our exceptional attention, I have not the slightest doubt. But we must own to what we feel. I recall hearing a radio programme some years ago about a blind woman, Judy Taylor, recapturing her sight. It is of no relevance that the producer of that programme is the person with whom I now live, except for the fact that when she recounts the making of it an austerity attaches to her too, as though it is an effect that can be passed on by association.

Judy Taylor was at pains to deny any specialness, but everything she said about sight - how previously she felt that people were "looking in on her", how now she felt that she could take the husband she had never seen "captive" with her eyes - brought to mind ideas of invasiveness and power, of sensual trepidation and exchange, that we do not normally consider. By virtue of what she knew of blindness, and now of sight, she restored a sense of tremulous gravity to activities - to love especially - about which we otherwise galumph.

David Blunkett no more lost his heart for our edification than for our entertainment, but in an age of triviality it is good for us, however terrible it is for them, to regain a glimpse of something epic in our emotions.

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