Guys, you can always say no

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The Independent Online

Eleven days ago it was supposedly a tragedy as David Blunkett resigned, wept in public and implied he had lost everything for lurve - well, not quite everything, for at least the former home secretary still enjoys the love of a good man, aka the Prime Minister. I would take bets on their mutual passion outlasting the carnal sort, which got everyone into such a spin last week, transforming Greek tragedy into English farce.

Eleven days ago it was supposedly a tragedy as David Blunkett resigned, wept in public and implied he had lost everything for lurve - well, not quite everything, for at least the former home secretary still enjoys the love of a good man, aka the Prime Minister. I would take bets on their mutual passion outlasting the carnal sort, which got everyone into such a spin last week, transforming Greek tragedy into English farce.

Contrary to what politicians imagine, there is nothing journalists enjoy more than catching one of their own with his trousers down. The gossipy media world divided into household names who feared being identified as the "fourth man" - actually Kimberly Quinn's rumoured third lover after Blunkett and the Guardian columnist Simon Hoggart, demonstrating that over-excited hacks can't count - and lesser mortals who thought it would make their career.

The hunt for more lovers was a sign that Quinn had lost her reputation, transforming her from a glamorous woman half of London wanted to be seen with to a figure of fun. She has finally assumed her proper place in this episode as the femme fatale who heartlessly destroys careers and marriages, ending a period of uncertainty in which unease was expressed about Blunkett's hounding of a pregnant woman. This outcome was always on the cards, given the iron rule that questionable decisions about sex are a woman's fault. Take Bill Clinton, who was only the most powerful man in the world when he met a young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. How could he possibly refuse?

Poor old Blunkett was merely the third or fourth most powerful man in the UK when he - he, please note - demanded to meet Quinn, whom he had heard on the radio, in return for giving an interview to The Spectator. What could he do after a flirtatious dinner but give her his private number and begin an affair, even though she was just married and trying to become pregnant with her husband? (I assume that having unprotected sex will in future be known in political circles as "doing a Blunkett".)

What was she thinking about? A fair question, but what was he thinking about? The point I am making is not that Quinn is blameless. It is that Blunkett is the scariest politician Labour has produced in my lifetime - a man who as home secretary cheerfully locked up suspects without trial, driving some of them mad, and publicly gloated over the suicide in jail of a serial killer - and should bear just as much responsibility. He is a consenting adult, but since the end of the affair he has behaved not so much like a love-struck teenage girl as a self-obsessed bully. He has been likened to a discarded mistress, a comparison that has some merit, but what has not been stated very clearly is that the Blunkett-Quinn saga is actually a new kind of power struggle.

An arrogant man has found himself pitted against a woman who is either very clever or has smart friends. Perhaps the former home secretary is so used to getting his own way that it did not occur to him he might jeopardise his career, but when he could not get what he wanted from his ex-lover, he went to court. When Quinn wanted to shake him off - and the most convincing pronouncement I have heard is the claim by her "friends" that she just wanted Blunkett to leave her alone - she used the media. The ebb and flow of power between the two camps, in sometimes quite unpredictable ways, has been riveting.

I don't think Kimberly Quinn would have been mocked so mercilessly - in, for example, a crude and unfunny spoof diary in last week's Daily Mail - if her defiance hadn't signalled a shift in power between powerful men and the women they have relationships with.

The story isn't finished yet, not by a long chalk, but I want to end the year with a reminder of a rarely mentioned fact: men can always say no. Coming soon: condoms and how to use them.

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