The politics column - Martin Bright fingers a bully

David Blunkett has not replied to recent charges that he is intimidating and duplicitous. Could it b

Barely a week goes by without a senior Labour politician being accused of lying or bullying someone. One recent example of the former was Stephen Byers admitting in open court that he misled parliament during his time as transport secretary. As for the latter, ministers boast about their prowess. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that David Blunkett has not challenged attacks on his integrity from the former Met police commissioner Lord Stevens and his own biographer Stephen Pollard.

Maybe politicians as long in the tooth as Blunkett grow used to such accusations. But there may be another explanation for his reticence. Could it be that Blunkett has simply judged it wise not to offer ripostes to Stevens's claims that he is "duplicitous and intimidating" and to Pollard writing in the Times that, "whatever else he may be, Mr Blunkett is indeed a liar"?

Like Stevens and Pollard, I know David Blunkett is a liar because he has lied about me. Last December the Observer ran a front-page story on the eve of the publication of Sir Alan Budd's report into the granting of a visa to a nanny employed by his lover Kimberly Quinn.

In the piece, I quoted a "friend" of the then home secretary saying that Budd had been "as mesmerised by Kimberly" as Blunkett had been. Astonishingly, as the paper hit the news-stands on Saturday night the Labour Party issued a statement which read: "Neither David Blunkett nor anyone who speaks for him has said this."

I would never reveal my source, but readers can take it from me that neither Blunkett nor I could be in any doubt that the "friend" speaks for him. That night we made it clear to Labour that we had a tape of the interview with the "friend" and would not hesitate to make it public if Blunkett continued to deny our story. The home secretary's behaviour looked even more odd when the Independent on Sunday also quoted a "friend" making the same claims about the charms that the mesmerising Mrs Quinn had worked on Budd. There are only two possible conclusions: either Blunkett lied to the Labour Party or he told party officials the truth and they ordered him to lie.

So the charge of lying is established. What about other character traits? Blunkett is still in charge of a major department, Work and Pensions, and has even been tipped for a return to the Home Office in a reshuffle. There are many in Whitehall who would attest to his intimidating approach to management. Senior sources at the Home Office say that his return would be distinctly unwelcome in a department that was left demoralised and bruised by his leadership.

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.

The Labour Party and its supporters in the media make much of the "cynicism" the public now feels about political life. Journalists, it is suggested, fuel this by giving the impression that politicians are dishonest. I agree that there must be a new compact of trust, but first, politicians with the totemic significance of David Blunkett must be seen to tell the truth and treat employees with decency, even when they are in a corner.

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