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Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Blunkett the hard man
Asylum seekers
Blunkett accused of segregation

If there is one thing David Blunkett likes, it is talking tough.

That is nothing particularly new in a home secretary. It has become the rule over the past decade or so that only hard cases should inhabit the Home Office.

And Mr Blunkett and his predecessors, both Labour and Tory, have tried to out do each other in the who-is-the-hardest-of-them-all stakes.

Home Secretary David Blunkett
Blunkett talks tough
Increasingly, the current home secretary appears to like displaying his muscles over the hugely sensitive issue of asylum seekers.

He was recently happy to use the politically- loaded word "swamping" in relation to the issue.

Now he seems more than ready to engage in a fight with a number of his own backbenchers over the plan to educate the children of asylum seekers in special camps.

No segregation

Despite a small, last-minute concession aimed at peeling off a few wavering rebels, he is determined to press ahead with his plan to educate asylum seekers' children in camps.

Asylum seekers
Asylum is growing issue
And his attitude has dismayed charities, civil liberties groups and many on his own backbenches.

Asylum seekers have become a big issue lately - possibly even out of proportion to their real impact - and politicians on both sides are desperate not to appear soft on the issue.

Playing on fears

But in their attempts to show how tough they are, they have been accused of whipping up the issue for political advantage.

Union leader Bill Morris
Morris is leading attacks
Mr Blunkett is accused of straying dangerously close to the sort of rhetoric used by far right groups in their partly successful attempts to win votes.

Most notably, union leader Bill Morris has accused him of playing on people's fears and planning a policy of segregation.

Election winner

There is also the underlying belief, as with virtually everything Mr Blunkett does at the moment, that his ambition to become Labour leader is a key factor in his thinking.

And, while you may not become leader by alienating many of your own backbenchers, you will if you look like a man in tune with public opinion and, as a result, an election winner.

And that is the real core of this row. As long as the home secretary believes he is voicing the concerns of voters - who, he believes, do not want their schools "swamped" with the children of asylum seekers - he will stick to his guns.

That will further dismay his opponents who believe it is the slippery slope to even more populist but draconian measures.


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11 Jun 02 | UK Politics
11 Jun 02 | UK Politics
10 Jun 02 | UK Politics
25 Apr 02 | UK Education
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