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EDITIONS
 Monday, 10 December, 2001, 17:36 GMT
A taste for the headlines
David Blunkett often uses heated rhetoric
Nyta Mann

David Blunkett has an undoubted taste for being in the headlines - and coming out with the kind of remarks that guarantee him a place there.

This highly experienced politician can also have been in little doubt his weekend comments on immigrants and "norms of acceptability" would cause a stir.

Nor is the home secretary one to go out of his way to avoid a political confrontation. He sometimes in fact gives the distinct impression that he positively seeks them out.

That's certainly how Bill Morris, leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union, took it when he remarked that Mr Blunkett had of late succeeded in declaring war on "the judges, the police, the House of Lords and his own side in the Labour Party".

"I say to our home secretary, please calm down. You have got a lot of friends, don't make any enemies."

Mr Morris' comments reflect a certain bemusement at Westminster as to why Mr Blunkett decided to makes his comments just now.

No connection

They come ahead of Tuesday's publication of four reports related to this summer's disturbances in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham.

Bill Morris: Advised Mr Blunkett not to make more enemies
But exactly what purpose did it serve Mr Blunkett when speaking in this context to apparently connect those reports to subjects like female circumcision and enforced marriages remains?

In all the acres of comment and conjecture that followed those riots, genital mutilation and forced marriages were not once raised by anyone as even remotely a possible factor.

Pressed to spell out their relevance, even Downing Street conceded as much, saying that Mr Blunkett was simply "making clear that there are certain practices which we do find objectionable ... There is nothing wrong in expressing that view."

What's more, most of those involved in the riots were not immigrants but British citizens born here who have no need for English lessons.

Enough on Blunkett's plate?

The home secretary also made his comments at a time when it might be thought he already has enough on his plate with his highly contentious Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill.

On this, too, he blustered his way into the headlines after the House of Lords - including Labour and Lib Dem peers, though Mr Blunkett chose to blame Conservatives - inflicted a string of defeats against the bill last week.

Rioting in Bradford this summer
Summer riots in northern towns are the subject of four reports out on Tuesday
The home secretary issued a lurid, fire-and-brimstone warning. "God willing, there won't be an attack on us over Christmas and new year," he declared.

"Because all those who tell me we are not [at risk], are the ones who do not have the security and intelligence information which for my sins I carry."

That was seen as badly judged, with Downing Street applying a gentle clarification that Mr Blunkett was not seeking to sow panic over threatened end-of-year terror attacks but just "expressing a general hope that we would not see more attacks in view of aiming to get the bill through by Christmas".

Even as he spoke, though, a concession was being drawn up and dangled before recalcitrant peers, of a privy councillor's review of the new powers after two years.

Smokescreen suspicion

At the start of this week the Home Office insists it is sticking to the line of seeking to reverse all the changes peers have made to the bill. But don't be too surprised if despite that bullish line, some compromises end up being struck.

Similarly, despite Mr Blunkett's controversial comments on immigration, riots and various seemingly completely unconnected issues, don't be taken aback if the keynote speech he is due to make about race relations on Tuesday is not quite as provocative as expected.

Using heated rhetoric to causes a furore, particularly among politically useful government targets - including the "liberal left", "airy fairy" civil libertarians, "political correctness" - to cover a retreat or some other uncomfortable reality is, after all, a well-established politician's tactic.

Tuesday's reports on the riots in northern towns may not be comfortable reading for the government and Home Office ministers in particular. But thanks to Mr Blunkett, people may now be paying more attention to the fall-out of the weekend's contretemps instead.


Talking PointTALKING POINT
 Blunkett row
Should immigrants 'be more British'?
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