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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 November 2005, 10:30 GMT
Profile: David Blunkett
David Blunkett
Mr Blunkett is a Labour loyalist from a working class family

David Blunkett spent just five months on the back benches after resigning as home secretary, before being brought back into the Cabinet as work and pensions secretary.

But almost from his first day in the job opposition parties and the media were calling from him to quit the Cabinet once again because of controversy over his personal life.

Two challenges dominated Mr Blunkett's work and pensions brief: producing plans to deal with what most experts see as the UK's looming pensions "crisis"; and delivering reform of incapacity benefit.

But he was distracted from these tasks - seen as central to Tony Blair's third term mission to reform the public services - by constant attacks over his business interests.

And that, in the end, is what led to his second resignation from the Cabinet.

'Airy fairy libertarians'

His departure will be seen as a major blow to Tony Blair.

Mr Blunkett has been one of the prime minister's most staunch Cabinet allies, since being made education and employment secretary after Labour's 1997 landslide election victory.

A tough, plain-speaking character, who embraced Mr Blair's reform agenda more enthusiastically than many of his front bench colleagues, he was also valued for his ability to connect with Labour's grassroots.

His working class grit was a useful counterpoint to the public school educated Mr Blair, making him a valuable asset during election campaigns.

During his brief exile on the back benches, he was sent out to spread Labour's message in its northern industrial heartlands during this year's election campaign.

A Labour loyalist from a traditional working class background Mr Blunkett, 58, had been unafraid of pushing for changes to Labour policy.

Alistair Darling, David Blunkett and guide dog
Mr Blunkett is currently the only blind MP

Mr Blunkett entered Parliament for Sheffield Brightside in 1987, after first contesting the Sheffield Hallam seat in 1974.

He is the only blind MP to reach the front bench and the Cabinet.

Mr Blunkett was schooled in Sheffield where he led the city council for seven years before entering the Commons.

He chaired the Labour Party nationally during the 80s and during the 90s shadowed Tory health and education ministers.

When Labour won power in 1997, Mr Blunkett was put in charge of education and employment, where he won big increases in funds for schools while insisting on improved standards of literacy and numeracy.

He was prepared to stand up to the teaching unions - which sometimes heckled his speeches - and his policy of charging university students for tuition fees was not popular.

His success in driving through reforms was rewarded with promotion after the 2001 general election, when he was made home secretary.

But the attacks on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 changed the nature of Mr Blunkett's brief, with heightened concern for security and immigration dominating his period in office.

Never afraid of controversy or of upsetting what he called "airy fairy libertarians", Mr Blunkett seemed to revel in his image as a tough home secretary.

He provoked controversy through plans for identity cards, with critics questioning their cost and effect on civil liberties.

There was also criticism when he told refugees from Afghanistan and Kosovo to "get back home" to start rebuilding their countries.

And he also urged people from ethnic minorities to develop a "sense of belonging" in Britain, telling them to speak English at home.

He also enraged some commentators with his comments about "opening a bottle" when he heard serial killer GP Harold Shipman had killed himself.

Affair

In January 2004 Mr Blunkett courted further controversy over his seemingly liberal reclassification of cannabis, from a Class B to Class C drug.

A few months later, he was also at the centre of a scandal involving the former immigration minister Beverly Hughes.

Having received his full backing, Ms Hughes was forced to resign over abuses in the visa processing system, of which she said she was unaware.

But it was a furore around his personal life which ended Mr Blunkett's time at the Home Office.

He survived the headlines over his affair with married woman Kimberly Quinn, publisher of the Spectator magazine.

But he had to resign when it emerged a visa application by Ms Quinn's former nanny had been fast tracked - although Mr Blunkett insisted he had done nothing wrong.

His attempt to ride out the storm was not helped by the fact he had made disparaging remarks about his Cabinet colleagues to a biographer.

Blindness

Mr Blunkett was often praised by friends and political rivals alike for not allowing his blindness to hold back his career.

Mr Blunkett himself described not being able to see as simply "an inconvenience".

His guide dogs have occasionally provided amusement. In 1999, his then guide dog Lucy vomited in the Chamber during the speech of his Tory opponent.

Lucy was replaced by her half-sister, Sadie, a black Labrador-curly-coated retriever cross, in 2003 after nearly a decade by Mr Blunkett's side.

She will now have to get used to a new place, alongside her master, on the back benches.





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