Stephen Pollard: Can Blunkett still hope to return to the Cabinet?

It's a Götterdämmerung of spin, in which both sides are engulfed by forces whipped up by themselves
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The Independent Online

Speak to those close to Tony Blair and they will all tell you the same thing. Come 6 May, when Mr Blair appoints his new Cabinet, there will be one name returning to the front bench: David Blunkett.

Speak to those close to Tony Blair and they will all tell you the same thing. Come 6 May, when Mr Blair appoints his new Cabinet, there will be one name returning to the front bench: David Blunkett.

Given the Prime Minister's continuing public support for Mr Blunkett, it was a reasonable assumption that he would be back. Almost everything that has happened since his resignation has reinforced that notion. As a television and radio performer, the Government lacks - with the exception of John Reid - anyone who comes close to Mr Blunkett's persuasiveness. Mr Blair has repeatedly said that Mr Blunkett left office "without a stain on his character". And the handling of the anti-terror legislation by his successor, Charles Clarke, has been - to be charitable - chaotic, showing just what the Government is missing without Mr Blunkett.

Without fanfare, he has already taken the first steps back. He has spent the past few weeks visiting Labour-held marginal constituencies campaigning on behalf of sitting MPs. His reception by the public has confirmed that he remains immensely popular with voters and is still a prime asset for the Labour Party.

But the operative words are "almost everything". This weekend's re-ignition of the story is the worst possible thing which could have happened to Mr Blunkett's chances of making a return to the Cabinet. The Quinns have claimed that Mr Blunkett has been briefing the press with gossip as to the paternity of Mrs Quinn's second child and her further affairs. A look at the facts, and the principle of cui bono, ought to show how preposterous such allegations are.

Mr Blunkett has never claimed to be the father of Kimberly Quinn's second child. He thought he might be, since their affair was still ongoing at the time of the boy's conception, but once he realised that she was sleeping with at least one other man, he was aware that he might well not be the father.

From day one of their affair becoming public, nearly all the briefing, in my opinion, has come from Mrs Quinn's side. A sign of how skilful a manipulator of the media she has been is the idea which took hold that she was a helpless ingénue, caught up in a maelstrom out of her control and the victim of a politician with powerful media connections. This from a woman who is publisher of The Spectator, is married to the publisher of Vogue, and whose best friend is Julia Hobsbawm, one of the country's top PRs!

There has rarely been a better illustration of how both to prolong, and to kill, a news story. The media had a field day in the final few months of last year when there were regular briefings. The result: almost daily news stories. But once the briefings began to backfire on Mrs Quinn, in the final stages of her second pregnancy, her camp stopped. And so the story fell out of the newspapers.

Look at the coverage of the birth of her second child on 2 February. The newspapers reported the event itself, but since neither Mrs Quinn nor Mr Blunkett was, even indirectly through "friends", talking, the story could go nowhere. The result: one day of purely factual coverage of the birth of her son. And since then, nothing.

Until now, and the news that he is not the father of her child. In theory, that too should have been a one-day wonder - a story for the record, ending further speculation about Mr Blunkett. The news that a private citizen is not having a child by a politician is, after all, hardly a scandal.

But this is no ordinary story. It is a kind of Götterdämmerung of spin, in which both sides are engulfed and destroyed by forces which have been whipped up by their own actions and which they cannot subsequently quell.

Mr Blunkett has been going about the business of rebuilding his career, issuing a dignified statement on Friday designed to end speculation about his paternity of Mrs Quinn's second child and making no further comment.

The response from the Quinns? Instead of silence, or a short press statement to kill off the story, they make, in door-step interviews and through their "friends", wild allegations and bizarre comments about Mr Blunkett's supposed press briefings and gossip as to the baby's real father. As media professionals, they must know the only possible effect of their claims: giving the story legs.

Whether or not Mr Blunkett will return to office depends on two factors. If Mr Blair wins a large majority in May, then he will have the political strength to bring back a minister who remains popular even now. But there remains the possibility that the Quinns will drag out the story for as long as they can, knowing that with every mention, his chances of a return are reduced.

That is the context in which this weekend's allegations need to be judged. Cui bono? The man who wants all mention of the Quinns to end, so he can focus on politics once more? Or the couple who would seem to want nothing more than to destroy him? Have a guess.

The author's 'David Blunkett' is published by Hodder and Stoughton

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