Terence Blacker: Far too easy a target for jealous sneering

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The Independent Online

In retrospect, it was rather unfortunate that the serialisation of David Blunkett's diaries, which are shortly to be published, coincided with National Mental Health Week. For those who look out for such things, almost every paragraph describing the former home secretary's fall from grace provides an insight into paranoia, feelings of insecurity, narcissism, self-pity or persecution complex. Already the critics - embittered resting politicians, axe-grinding Westminster insiders - will be donning their kicking boots. Private Eye will be dusting off its collection of Blunkett jokes.

Few political stories reveal more of thegaping divide between those who do and those who stand on the sidelines commenting than the fall of David Blunkett. It may be foolish of him to fulminate against the press and, in particular, against his biographer Stephen Pollard ("Why was I persuaded, or why did I persuade myself, that Pollard's book was going to be a heavyweight biography?"), but only in a cruel culture would the moral blame of what happened fall exclusively on him. The media emerges from the story with remarkably little credit.

Blunkett is nauseated by what he calls "the liberati", a faction which he characterises as "a combination of libertarian liberals and the world of arts". He sees the decision to make both a musical and a TV comedy-drama about his resignation as an act of revenge. These people are, he says, "extremely sick... For some of them, I was public enemy Number One, for speaking out for people whom I represent and whom they hold in contempt."

At first glance, these remarks seems silly and chippy but, by any normal standards of decency, Blunkett's general position is correct. Those looking for theatrical and TV product fastened upon the story of a lonely, blind man who was clearly hopeless with women and who had just destroyed his career as a result of falling in love with the wrong one. Then they set about writing it up for laughs.

Was the miserable mess in which David Blunkett found himself really so politically important, or so innately amusing, that it deserved to be camped up with musical accompaniment on the stage? Did it raise such important public concerns that Channel 4 felt bound to commission a facetious dramatisation? When the unfunny play and the utterly dire TV programme appeared, would it not have been kinder and more dignified if editors and producers had consigned reviews to a final paragraph, a 30-second news report, rather than adding to the pressure on Blunkett with a gleeful publicity blitz? Even if Blunkett had once been part of New Labour's assault on civil liberties, the story had never really been about politics, but about human weakness.

This behaviour by writers and editors was not, as Blunkett's diary claims, an expression of contempt towards the public, but was caused by a profound sense of jealousy. In the world of words - where pressure is counted in terms of not receiving a call-back from one's agent or of having copy spiked by a features editor - the political scene - where every day decisions are made which affect real lives - is distant and enviable. The mistakes of a senior politician offer a rare opportunity for the two-bit satirists and members of the commentariat sitting in the stalls to enjoy their own moment of power.

It is good, as a general rule, to be considered a member of the liberati, but the sneers and laughter that attended the fall of David Blunkett, and which will probably be heard once more when his book is published, are an embarrassment to our great cause.

Faith, hope and a new CD to plug The doctor is in... the charts

If the godhead were to appear on earth to save our sins, would he look like Chris de Burgh, go to Marlborough College and end up writing songs such as There's a New Star in Heaven Tonight?

The question is worth posing because the crooner has just appeared on the BBC's God-slot programme and told Gloria Hunniford that he has the power to heal the sick.

When Chris met a man in the West Indies who was unable to walk, he laid his hands on him. The man stood up. A Liverpool footballer with a serious form of neuritis also benefited from his gift of healing. Let us hope this miracle worker's house is surrounded by those who need his miraculous powers and that he helps them all. Otherwise, cynics will be tempted to think it was all a publicity stunt.

* Westminster Council has issued a statement which, if it were a racehorse, would be described as, "By 1984, out of Alice in Wonderland". Looking for new ways to bully smokers, the council wants to prosecute those who stand outside pubs and clubs when smoking inside them is banned. The legal ban on smoking in a "substantially enclosed" space should now be defined as including "a space in which an individual's choice to move is compromised". For the purposes of the law, outside would count as inside.

This sleight of hand reveals to perfection what happens to the brains of those hooked on banning things. Because they believe their cause is just, and that others need saving from themselves, any step - even the official distortion of the meaning of words - is necessary. When language is at the mercy of fundamentalists, we had all better watch out.

terblacker@aol.com

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