Britain’s top law enforcement officer, a key member of Tony Blair’s Cabinet, resigned Wednesday after acknowledging that his department fast-tracked a visa for his former lover’s nanny.
David Blunkett’s departure as home secretary, a position that combines many of the duties of the attorney general and the interior secretary in the U.S. government, was a blow for Blair, who had strongly backed him and confidently asserted that he would be cleared.
Blunkett was in charge of key legislation on crime and terrorism and was establishing a new system of national identity cards.
Blunkett said he felt he had to step down because his actions led to preferential treatment for a residence visa for a Filipina nanny employed by his former lover, U.S. magazine publisher Kimberly Quinn.
“I believe these issues would never have been raised had I not decided in September that I could not walk away from my youngest son,” said Blunkett, who has gone to court to establish that he fathered Quinn’s 2-year-old son.
“Any perception of this application being speeded up requires me to take responsibility,” he told reporters. He denied that he had been dishonest about his role.
Domino effect in Cabinet
Blair appointed Education Secretary Charles Clarke to replace Blunkett. Clarke, 54, will be succeeded in the education post by Ruth Kelly, the Cabinet Office minister, Downing Street said.
As Britain’s only blind legislator, Blunkett had gained some sympathy for his shattered love affair, but he undermined his position by making caustic comments about colleagues to the author of a new biography.
Blunkett’s problems have been a distraction and an embarrassment for Blair’s government since the affair was revealed in August, but matters got worse this month with the disclosure of his low opinion of some colleagues.
Quinn’s nanny, Leoncia Casalme, had been told by the Home Office that it might take a year to process her visa application. Quinn took that to Blunkett’s attention, and he said he in turn showed the letter to officials to stress that such delays were unacceptable.
That letter got into the system, Blunkett said, “and the system then spewed it out.”
“And the system in the end did fast-track that particular application along with many others. And an e-mail was sent back which we were not aware of ... which actually said, ‘No favors, but slightly quicker.’ And once I had found that out yesterday, I realized that I had to resign,” Blunkett said.
He described the anguish of recent weeks as the “worst of my life,” but he indicated that he would continue his legal fight over the boy and take comfort from his future relationship with him.
“The disappointment and sometimes, I think probably, the depression of the months to come are absolutely nothing compared with the joy of being able in the future ... to grow and work alongside — along with my older sons — my little lad,” he said.
Political weapon for Tories
Opposition Conservative leader Michael Howard seized on Blunkett’s comments to his biographer about his colleagues.
Howard tossed the biography toward Blair during a debate in the House of Commons, suggesting that he read it so he could “give a full explanation of the government’s total failure to deliver.”
After Blair had left the chamber, a Labour Party member tossed the book back at the Conservative benches.
Blunkett’s targets included Clark, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer. And Blair, Blunkett told his biographer, Stephen Pollard, does not like people who stand up to him.
Blunkett showed signs of feeling the pressure, using a back door to leave his home Wednesday.
He may not have helped himself by turning up at a Christmas party and singing a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers duet, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.” News reports said that the song bombed and that Blunkett quickly departed.