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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Blunkett lives up to hard man image
Home Secretary David Blunkett
Blunkett wants to outdo Straw
Nick Assinder

In virtually his first act as home secretary, David Blunkett has forced the resignation of a chief constable.

After three years' controversy over the shooting of an unarmed man by officers in his charge, Sussex's Paul Whitehouse has stepped down - still proclaiming the innocence of his officers.

And it appears certain that he only quit because of the decisiveness of Mr Blunkett who - with the full backing of the prime minister - told him to jump before he was pushed.

The rights and wrongs of the incident will continue to be argued over but one thing has been graphically underlined by the event - that the new home secretary is determined to show he is a man of action and no soft touch.

Sussex Chief Constable Paul Whitehouse
Whitehouse was forced out
That is not to suggest his predecessor Jack Straw was a rollover. He was regularly attacked by his own side for trying to be more hardline than Tory home secretary Michael Howard.

His decisions to allow the extradition of General Pinochet and for boxer Mike Tyson to enter Britain were just two of his more controversial moves.

Tough decisions

But, even before he was officially re-shuffled into his new job, Mr Blunkett was supposed to be going around boasting he would be even tougher than Mr Straw.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Straw was attacked as illiberal
There is no doubt that he is one of the most successful members of the cabinet and it was his decisiveness and readiness to take the tough decisions which persuaded Tony Blair he was the right man to tackle crime.

During his time as education secretary he regularly took on the unions, most notably over the issue of performance related pay.

They cut up rough, he slapped them down and pushed his reforms through.

Huge fan

There were numerous other occasions when he faced mass hostility from teachers but, in effect, ignored their complaints and did what he intended.

That has already won him the reputation as the cabinet's most ruthless and, as a result, effective operators.

Tony Blair is a huge fan and Mr Blunkett is regularly talked of as a potential leader - even Britain's first blind prime minister.

He certainly has the ambition, drive and determination to battle his way to the top, as his ability to overcome his disability has shown.

And his move to oust Mr Whitehouse is the clearest possible signal that he is set to live up to his reputation.

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15 Oct 00 | Education
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