Mark Steel: On the loose, armed and dangerous

Blunkett denies the machine-gun suggestion, but it's his fault the story sounds believable
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The Independent Online

David Blunkett has been accused by Martin Narey, the ex-Director General of the prison service, of responding to a prison riot by telling him to "machine-gun the rioters," before "shrieking that he didn't care about lives." But the brilliant part is this isn't really surprising. Blunkett was probably the same at works and pensions. Someone would suggest they reduce state pensions by insisting this would ensure long-term stability, then Blunkett would yell: "Sod that, shoot the ancient bastards. Pump lead between eyes, then see if they'll carry on queuing at Post Office for weekly 'andouts."

Most cabinet meetings probably went the same way when he was there. In a session on how to counter a group lobbying for increased spending on cycle lanes, he'd yell: "Toxic gas. That way we can make it look like suicide. Or we invite 'em in for select committee, then fill the room wit' scorpions."

No wonder he didn't try to get custody of that boy. When Social Services asked him how he'd deal with disorderly behaviour he'd probably say: "You've no need to worry about discipline. Elbows ont' table and he'll get this little beauty int' cheek, it's a Smith and Wesson .38 calibre laser grip model 367 revolver, wit' braille trigger so there'll be no missing."

Perhaps Blunkett's been listening to too much Snoop Dogg and gangsta rap. He could even be preparing his own hip-hop career, with a debut track that starts: "Wassup yeah, I'll let my Uzi blow a crater, the size of the equator, in that prisoner's ass but deny the data, then 10 minutes later screw that ho from The Spectator."

Or as part of his obsession to make himself rich, he's hoping Martin Scorcese makes a film about him, in which Blunkett is played by Joe Pesci. The irony here is that one complaint about this Government is that home secretaries have put the public at risk by allowing dangerous psychopaths to walk the streets. But that issue gets more complicated if it turns out the Home Secretary is a dangerous psychopath.

Blunkett denies suggesting the machine-gun method, but it's his own fault the story sounds so believable. In his diaries he merrily tells us he tried to persuade Blair to bomb Al-Jazeera, the Arabic news channel, because it was broadcasting news critical of the British Government. This was a level of nuttiness even Blair shied away from. And if Blunkett had got his way, who knows what his next suggestion would be. He might have suggested bombing the BBC, or even QVC, the shopping channel, on the grounds that throughout an entire evening selling cushion covers they didn't once mention the necessity of overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

And he was always trying to be the most outrageous tough man on crime or immigration, as if each of his pronouncements should be followed with, "'Cos I'm bloody 'ard, me."

So it would be more surprising if the ex-Director General had claimed that when the prison riot happened, Blunkett called everyone together and said: "The main thing is to stay calm and think rationally."

In a way that's the most important thing, not whether he had this screaming fit, but that one of the most important positions in the country was held by someone who so plausibly could have done. Whereas if most people were accused of shouting like that it wouldn't be believed. Try issuing a press release that Moira Stuart or Sir Stephen Redgrave had rung up demanding "Machine-gun the rioters, I don't care about the lives," and no one would take any notice.

Equally believable is the classic English response that Martin Narey had to Blunkett's alleged suggestions. "I felt David's outburst to a crisis was the least competent," he said. I should bloody say so. How could you be less competent than yelling for the Army to run amok with machine guns? There might be more to come out, such as: "On another occasion, when Mr Blunkett was informed that several prisoners had complained about the toilet facilities in Pentonville, he curled into a ball and screeched, 'Nuke the bastards. I'll do it, rat-tat-tat keboom keboom yeeehaaah'. This was a response I felt fell short of that expected from a senior minister of state."

But there we are. For several years apparently a major part of the country was under the control of someone with the madness and megalomania of Napoleon, but none of the strategic ability. I suggest a notice is sent immediately to universities, advising them to keep a careful watch on any students coming under the influence of New Labour. Parents of teenage children should keep an eye out for tell-tale signs, such as vigorously applauding a speech by John Reid, or taking an interest in something said by Margaret Beckett. Because if these fanatics aren't nipped in the bud, the consequences could be lethal.