Friday, September 16, 2005

Latest Blunkett scandal

A column by Martin Bright in today's New Statesman is exciting the media (though not the BBC, which seems to be ignoring the story so far). I am not sure how long it will be freely available, so here is the most interesting part:

The furore over the nanny's visa reminded me of an earlier encounter with Blunkett. Around August 1998, when I was working as an education correspondent, I received a call from him to thank me for not running a story about his son, who had just taken exams crucial to his future.

The allegation was damaging. An exam board had been having problems with its computer, making it possible that some children were getting the wrong grades. It was a terrible situation; parents across the country were in a panic. A Whitehall source had told me that Blunkett was terrified that his own son was caught up in the chaos. A senior official was asked to make discreet inquiries about the matter with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. The allegation was that the secretary of state for education (as he then was) was using his influence through official channels where other parents would not have had that option.

Naturally I called Blunkett's people to check out the story and all hell broke loose. Within a matter of hours Blunkett's office had demanded that heads should roll. My source was identified and sacked. By the end of the day this individual called me to ask me not to run the story and I reluctantly agreed, since the source believed his/her future in education would be destroyed. It is not my proudest moment in journalism. If there are any principles in this profession, then getting the story out and protecting your sources are two of the most important, and I had failed on both counts.

I am not suggesting that Blunkett used his power as education secretary to fix his son's exam results; his actions may have been no more than those of a father worried about his son's future. But there were officials working for the QCA at the time who were deeply shocked that he thought it appropriate to seek intervention on behalf of his son. By thanking me a few days later Blunkett made me complicit, and I have always regretted not running the story.

Then there is an extraordinary article from The Times. It was written by Stephen Pollard, who was Blunkett's biographer, and it reproduced on his blog. It begins:
It's rather unsettling being called a liar by a Cabinet minister. Especially when you are his biographer. In Lord Stevens's memoirs, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner suggests that David Blunkett is a lying, backstabbing bully. Having read Lord Stevens's account of his relationship with the former Home Secretary, it is clear that, whatever else he may be, Mr Blunkett is indeed a liar.

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