So has the time come for the Home Secretary to resign? Not yet

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The Independent Online

There must, by now, be almost as many views on the Blunkett affair - we use the word advisedly - as there are opinions in this country. The tangle of relationships exposed, and the passions at play, veer between television soap and high opera. On the essentials, however, there can be no dispute. What has taken place has turned into a personal catastrophe for everyone concerned; it is hard to see any happy endings.

There must, by now, be almost as many views on the Blunkett affair - we use the word advisedly - as there are opinions in this country. The tangle of relationships exposed, and the passions at play, veer between television soap and high opera. On the essentials, however, there can be no dispute. What has taken place has turned into a personal catastrophe for everyone concerned; it is hard to see any happy endings.

None of the details is, in itself, unique. An older husband, a new wife who wants children, a powerful man infatuated with a bright and vivacious young woman, a long-running affair, a one-sided expectation of marriage - and increasing acrimony when it all turns bad. Does any of this become a matter of public concern, a resigning matter even, when the man is Home Secretary and goes to court for access to the child he believes to be his?

Not yet. We do not believe that the point has been reached where David Blunkett's resignation is inevitable. In principle, the Prime Minister is right when he insists that personal morality is one thing and professional competence another. Nor would Mr Blunkett be the first senior politician to be trying to cope with the bitter aftermath of an affair while holding high public office. His determination to keep contact with the child, if it is his, is both modern and thoroughly laudable - so long as this is his objective, rather than malice against the mother.

But the judgements are fine, and there are serious questions that need to be addressed before Mr Blunkett can be assured of holding on to his job. The first concerns the extent to which the aftermath of the affair may be affecting his conduct of his official duties. Mr Blunkett appears to be an expert "compartmentaliser". But how far is he distracted? How much of his time is being taken up by his pursuit of his court case for access?

This court case highlights a second concern: potential conflicts of interest. Every citizen is equal before the law and should have equal access to it. But does that include an incumbent Home Secretary, who has a significant role in framing our laws, including laws that affect the family and personal privacy? The judge at yesterday's hearing made his ruling public, not only - as he said - to set straight some of the "factual issues", but also "so that the public might have confidence that the system of family justice is fair and not wrongly cloaked in ... secrecy". In other words, to scotch charges that the Home Secretary might be given special treatment. Is this fair to Mrs Quinn?

The train tickets the Home Secretary supplied to his lover are a Commons disciplinary matter, but suggest a regrettable casualness on Mr Blunkett's part in the way he treats the perks of office. The fast-tracked visa for Mrs Quinn's nanny is a question of far greater consequence. If the inquiry finds that the Home Secretary had anything to do with obtaining this visa in breach of existing rules, Mr Blunkett's position will be compromised, probably irrevocably.

The third aspect is Mr Blunkett's credibility as Home Secretary. We do not like many of his policies, but he is still a remarkable figure in so many respects. But when he stands up in the House to argue, for instance, for identity cards, will he carry conviction, or will he be seen as someone to be scorned or pitied because of his private life? British voters have shown an ability to set the private weaknesses of their politicians against their public strengths in a way that is at once sophisticated and admirably realistic. So far, Mr Blunkett's private life has not made him a liability to the Government. But that time could yet come.

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