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Key Blair Ally David Blunkett Resigns Again

The Cabinet member acknowledges his failure to disclose a financial benefit and business ties.

November 03, 2005|Vanora McWalters | Special to The Times

LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair lost a key ally Wednesday when a scandal-tainted minister was forced to resign from the Cabinet -- for the second time in a year -- after damaging revelations about his business interests.

In stepping down, Work and Pensions Secretary David Blunkett acknowledged that he had broken ministerial guidelines with his failure to disclose his having taken a lucrative company directorship while between Cabinet posts.

Blunkett, who reached the top level of British government despite being blind and coming from humble beginnings, said he was "deeply sorry" for embarrassing Blair, who had strongly backed him throughout months of damaging headlines about work and personal scandals.

Media pundits rushed to declare that Blair's reluctance to jettison the damaged Blunkett was a sign of the prime minister's own lack of judgment and waning power.

"The Prime Minister now looks a lonelier man than ever before," commented Anne McElvoy, columnist at the Evening Standard.

Just 10 1/2 months ago, Blunkett resigned from the post of home secretary after tabloid newspapers revealed that he had fast-tracked a visa for the nanny of a married American woman with whom he was having an affair. The woman, Kimberly Quinn, is the publisher of the right-wing Spectator magazine.

But Blair brought Blunkett back into the Cabinet less than five months later after winning a third term in May with a sharply reduced majority. Blunkett was soon beset by new problems.

He failed to register a free membership in the Mayfair nightclub Annabel's, where he met and wooed a young blond who subsequently sold her story to the tabloids. And last week, the story broke that Blunkett had taken a lucrative company directorship with DNA Bioscience, a biotech firm, while between Cabinet jobs this year. Britain's ministerial code of conduct requires ex-Cabinet members to consult a parliamentary advisory committee over any such appointment taken within two years of leaving office. Blunkett also held $27,000 worth of shares in the company.

After insisting that he had no intention of resigning, Blunkett met with Blair on Wednesday morning before heading for a parliamentary hearing.

Blunkett later told reporters that he had changed his mind "between Downing Street and Portcullis House." He returned to Blair's office to offer his resignation.

The resignation drew comparisons with the fate of another of Blair's favorite ministers, Peter Mandelson, who left the Cabinet under a cloud in 1998 but was swiftly recalled -- only to be forced out a second time. He is now the European Union's trade commissioner.

Blunkett rose from a socially deprived background in the north of England. His father was killed in an industrial accident when he was 12. He walks with the help of a guide dog and has work documents read to him. Yet he transformed himself from a local activist with links to the militant left into one of Britain's most charismatic and highprofile mainstream leaders.

Since Blair turned the fortunes of the working-class Labor Party in the mid-1990s by making it business friendly and giving it middle-class appeal, Blunkett has been a much-needed foil. While Blair filled many Cabinet posts with smooth, Oxford-educated lawyers like himself in order to appeal to New Labor's new constituencies, the bearded Yorkshire man's gruff openness kept traditional Labor voters happy.

Blunkett's role in Blair's governments -- Labor is now in its third term -- had been as the prime minister's enforcer, with the clout to push through difficult reforms in education, home affairs and pensions.

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