David Blunkett

The Right Honourable
The Lord Blunkett

Lord Blunkett in 2015
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
In office
6 May 2005  2 November 2005
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Alan Johnson
Succeeded by John Hutton
Home Secretary
In office
8 June 2001  15 December 2004
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Jack Straw
Succeeded by Charles Clarke
Secretary of State for Education and Employment
In office
2 May 1997  8 June 2001
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Gillian Shephard
Succeeded by Estelle Morris (Education and Skills)
Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment
In office
20 October 1994  2 May 1997
Leader Tony Blair
Preceded by Ann Taylor
Succeeded by Gillian Shephard
Shadow Secretary of State for Health
In office
18 July 1992  20 October 1994
Leader John Smith
Margaret Beckett (Acting)
Preceded by Robin Cook
Succeeded by Margaret Beckett
Member of Parliament
for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough
Sheffield Brightside (1987–2010)
In office
11 June 1987  30 March 2015
Preceded by Joan Maynard
Succeeded by Harry Harpham
Leader of the Sheffield City Council
In office
Deputy Alan Billings
Preceded by George Wilson
Succeeded by Clive Betts
Personal details
Born (1947-06-06) 6 June 1947
Sheffield, England
Political party Labour
Alma mater Royal National College for the Blind
University of Sheffield
Huddersfield Holly Bank College of Education
Religion Methodism

David Blunkett, Baron Blunkett, PC (born 6 June 1947) is best known as a British politician and more recently as an academic, having represented the Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough constituency for 28 years through to 7 May 2015 when he stepped down at the general election.[1] Blind since birth, and coming from a poor family in one of Sheffield's most deprived districts, he rose to become Education and Employment Secretary, Home Secretary and Work and Pensions Secretary in Tony Blair's Cabinet following Labour's victory in the 1997 general election.

He was promoted to become Home Secretary following the 2001 general election, a position he held until 2004, when he resigned following highly publicised matters related to his personal life.[2] Following the 2005 general election, he was appointed Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, though he resigned from that role later that year following a large amount of media coverage relating to external business interests in the period when he did not hold a cabinet post.[3] The Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell (now Lord O'Donnell) exonerated him entirely from any wrongdoing in his letter of 25 November 2005.[4]

On 20 June 2014, Blunkett announced to his constituency party that he would be standing down from the House of Commons at the next general election in May 2015. The editor of the right-wing The Spectator magazine Fraser Nelson commented, "He was never under-briefed, and never showed any sign of his disability ... he was one of Labour's very best MPs – and one of the very few people in parliament whose life I would describe as inspirational."[5] Responding to a question from Blunkett on 11 March 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron said "As a new Back Bencher, I will never forget coming to this place in 2001 and, in the light of the appalling terrorist attacks that had taken place across the world, seeing the strong leadership he gave on the importance of keeping our country safe. He is a remarkable politician, a remarkable man."[6]

In May 2015 he accepted a professorship in Politics in Practice at the University of Sheffield (in 2014 he was invited to be a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences), and in June 2015, agreed to become Chairman of the Board of the University of Law.[7][8] In addition to his other work with charities he also agreed in June 2015 to become chairman of the David Ross Multi Academy Charitable Trust.[9]

In August 2015 he was awarded a peerage in the dissolution honours lists. He was created Baron Blunkett, of Brightside and Hillsborough in the City of Sheffield on 28 September 2015.[10]

Early life

Labour MP David Blunkett was born on 6 June 1947 at Jessop Hospital, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, with improperly developed optic nerves due to a rare genetic disorder.[11] He grew up in an underprivileged family and in 1959, he endured a family tragedy when his father was gravely injured in an industrial accident in which he fell into a vat of boiling water while at work as a foreman for the East Midlands Gas Board, dying a month later. This left the surviving family in poverty, especially since the board refused to pay compensation for two years because his father worked past the retirement age, dying at age 67.

Blunkett was educated at schools for the blind in Sheffield and Shrewsbury.[12] He was never sent for assessment at the School for the Blind in Worcester, and instead attended the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford.[13][14] He was apparently told at school that one of his few options in life was to become a lathe operator. Nevertheless, he won a place at the University of Sheffield, where he gained a BA honours degree in Political Theory and Institutions; one of his lecturers was Bernard Crick, (later Professor Sir Bernard Crick).[15] He entered local politics on graduation, whilst gaining a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) from Huddersfield Holly Bank College of Education.[16] He spent a total of six years going to evening classes and day-release classes to get the qualifications needed to go to university.[17] He worked as a clerk typist between 1967 and 1969 and as a lecturer in industrial relations and politics between 1973 and 1981.

Local council

In 1970, at the age of 22, Blunkett became the youngest-ever councillor on Sheffield City Council and in Britain,[16] being elected while a mature student. He served on Sheffield City Council from 1970 to 1988, becoming Leader from 1980 to 1987 and on South Yorkshire County Council from 1973 to 1977. This was a time of decline for Sheffield's steel industry. The Conservative MP for Sheffield Hallam, Sir Irvine Patnick, coined the phrase "Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire"[18] to describe the left-wing politics of its local government; Sheffield was designated as a nuclear-free zone.[19] Blunkett became known as the leader of one of the furthest left of the Labour councils.[20] Blunkett was one of the faces of the protest over rate-capping in 1985 which saw several Labour councils refuse to set a budget in a protest against Government powers to restrain their spending. He built up support within the Labour Party during his time as the council's leader during the 1980s and was elected to the Labour Party's National Executive Committee.

Member of Parliament

Having unsuccessfully fought Sheffield Hallam in February 1974, at the 1987 general election he was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Sheffield Brightside with a large majority in a safe Labour seat. He became a party spokesman on local government, joined the shadow cabinet in 1992 as Shadow Health Secretary and became Shadow Education Secretary in 1994.[21]

Education and Employment Secretary

After Labour's landslide victory in the 1997 general election, he became Secretary of State for Education and Employment,[21] thus becoming Britain's first blind cabinet minister (Henry Fawcett, husband of suffragist Millicent Fawcett, had been a member of the Privy Council, of which the Cabinet is the executive committee, more than a century before). The role of education secretary was a vital one in a government whose prime minister had in 1996 described his priority as "education, education, education" and which had made reductions in school class sizes a pledge.

As Secretary of State, Blunkett pursued conservative reforms, ready to take on the teaching unions and determined to ensure basic standards of literacy and numeracy. He was rewarded with extra funding to cut class sizes, and subsequently since 1997 there has been a massive increase in literacy and numeracy, and there are 42,000 more teachers than in 1997 with doubled spending per pupil in frontline schools (and over 100,000 teaching assistants) through to 2010.[22] A key pillar of Blunkett's work as Education Secretary was the introduction of Sure Start, a government programme which provides services for pre-school children and their families. It works to bring together early education, childcare, health and family support. In 2011 the government effectively started the abolition of Sure Start by lifting the ring fence on earmarked funding and cutting back drastically on the funds available.

Blunkett also led the massive expansion in higher education. He provided largescale investment in universities in the UK[23] and one recent study covering up to the decade of 2013, showed that universities are now educating more than one-quarter more students than they did previously and receiving double the income they did.[24]

Also in this position, Blunkett launched Learning & Skills Councils, created Job Centre Plus and had responsibility for the Equal Opportunities Commission, as well as establishing the Disability Rights Commission (as Home Secretary he was also responsible for the Commission on Racial Equality – all three of these bodies were incorporated later into the Equality and Human Rights Commission).[25]

In 1999, Blunkett proposed that sex education should not be pursued until children have left primary school at 11,[26] reportedly arguing that childhood, the "age of innocence", should not be compromised by "graphic" sex education.[27] In 2000, while attempting to cool opposition to the proposed abolition of the Local Government Act 1988's Section 28, he issued guidelines on the importance of 'family values' in teaching children sex education.

Blunkett introduced the teaching of Citizenship in schools in 1999, arguing that "We want to ensure that there's a basis of traditional knowledge that's available to all children." [28] Citizenship education provides pupils with the knowledge, skills and understanding to become informed citizens, aware of their rights, duties and responsibilities.

Home Secretary

At the start of the Labour government's second term in 2001, Blunkett was promoted to Home Secretary,[21] fulfilling an ambition of his. Observers saw him as future Prime Minister, and a rival to Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown's hopes to succeed Blair.[29][30]

Blunkett was almost immediately faced with September 11 attacks on the USA. He brought in new anti-terrorism measures, including detention without trial of suspect foreign nationals who couldn't be extradited or deported. It caused a backbench rebellion and provoked strong opposition in the House of Lords, and Blunkett made concessions over incitement to religious hatred (later carried through by his successor) and to introduce a "sunset clause".[31][32] He authorised MI5 to start collecting bulk telephone communications data on which telephone numbers called each other and when, authorised under a little understood general power under the Telecommunications Act 1984 instead of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 would have brought independent oversight and regulation. This was kept secret until announced by the then Home Secretary in 2015.[33][34][35]

As Home Secretary he was prepared to confront the judiciary and the police, with proposals for civilian community patrols and changes to police officers' pay and working conditions. More than 7,000 police demonstrated outside Parliament in 2002.

Also during his term in office the massive upsurge in asylum claims was reversed, the Sangatte refugee camp on French soil was closed, and refugees numbers subsequently dropped from 110,000 to less than 30,000. With an additional 15,000 police officers and 6,500 Community Support Officers by 2004, crime had reached an all-time low with over a 40% drop from ten years earlier.[36]

A controversial area for Blunkett was civil liberties, and he described civil libertarianism as "airy fairy".[37] As Education Secretary, he had repeatedly expressed the intention that, were he to become Home Secretary, he would make the then-incumbent Jack Straw, who had been criticised for being hard-line, seem overly liberal. In 2006, Martin Narey, the former director general of the prison service, claimed that Blunkett had once told him to use the army and machine guns, to deal with rioting prisoners. Blunkett has denied these allegations.[38]

Blunkett radically overhauled 'Victorian' sex offences legislation in 2002, which modernised the sex offences laws dramatically in relation to same-sex and related issues by sweeping away the archaic laws governing homosexuality, while tightening protections against rapists, paedophiles and other sex offenders.[39] The act closed a loophole that had allowed those accused of child rape to escape punishment by arguing the act was consensual and a new offence of adult sexual activity with a child, which covers any sex act that takes place between an adult and a child under 16, was introduced. It was supported by all major political parties in the UK.[40]

Blunkett resigned as Home Secretary on 15 December 2004 amidst allegations that he helped fast-track the renewal of a work permit for his ex-lover's nanny.[41] Mr Blunkett had in 2003 introduced for the first time substantial fees for visa and work permits and their renewal. As a consequence, turnaround times were tightened and customer service targets strengthened.

The accusations made against him in November 2004 formed part of an acrimonious public conflict playing out in the Family Court in respect of contested Contact and Responsibility Orders.[42] Clarity about the circumstances and events leading up to and surrounding his departure emerged in the phone hacking trial of 2013/14. On 24 June 2014, Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World and Head of Communications for David Cameron, was found guilty of a charge of conspiracy to intercept voicemails (phone-hacking). Blunkett's evidence proved central to the verdict.

Brief return to the cabinet

Blunkett in 2009

Following the 2005 general election Blunkett was returned to the cabinet as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, where he faced a growing pensions crisis.

Two weeks before the election Blunkett took up a directorship in a company called DNA Bioscience and bought £15,000 of shares in the company. After sustained sniping by opponents over a six-month period, Blunkett was asked on 31 October 2005 to explain why he had not consulted the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments regarding the directorship. Having placed the shares into an independent trust,[43] "Mr Blunkett said he had asked his three grown-up sons from his first marriage to authorise trustees to "dispose of" the shares. They agreed to the request."

Though he was later fully exonerated, Blunkett's political opponents claimed that a conflict of interest was created by him having been director of and holding shares in a company proposing to bid for government contracts to provide paternity tests to the Child Support Agency (CSA) – part of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), of which he was Secretary of State.

On 2 November, a scheduled appearance before a House of Commons Select Committee was cancelled at the last minute and Blunkett was summoned to a meeting at 10 Downing Street. Later that morning, a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed Blunkett had resigned at the meeting, stating that his position had become untenable.

Blunkett was later found to have not broken the ministerial code. On 25 November 2005, after he had resigned, Sir Gus O'Donnell wrote to Blunkett confirming that there was no conflict of interest, no failure to declare either Blunkett's shareholding or brief business connection with the company.[4] O'Donnell wrote:

"The issue of shareholdings and trusts and the handling of private interests more generally is of course covered quite extensively in Section 5 of the Ministerial Code. There is no ban on a Minister, or his or her immediate family members, holding such interests but where they do the Minister must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between his or her public duties and such private interests."

"In terms of the handling of your interests, and those of your family, you followed correct procedure in notifying your Permanent Secretary of your interests. Neither the DWP nor the CSA were in any contractual relationship with DNA Bioscience, and the CSA's contract for biometric testing was not due to be renewed for some years."[4]

Sir Gus O’Donnell also confirmed that the Advisory Committee on Ministerial Appointments, which had been the bone of contention up to the beginning of November 2005, was in fact voluntary. The code was changed in 2007 to make clear that references prior to taking business appointments shortly after leaving government was to be mandatory as part of the ministerial code.

Despite his resignation from the cabinet in November, Blunkett initially kept his ministerial accommodation in Belgravia, London, until he found new accommodation four months later.[44] He also rents a cottage on the estate of Chatsworth House.[45]


Blunkett continued to represent the constituency of Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough.

He is a Vice President of the Royal National Institute of Blind People and a vice president of the National Alzheimer’s Society, and has close links with a range of other charities (local to Sheffield and nationally) including those relating to substance abuse and breast cancer, and is a Patron of the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (enei).[46] He is also a long-standing Patron of The Micro & Anophthalmic Children's Society – the UK's only charity supporting families of children born without eyes or with underdeveloped eyes.[47] He is also a former Honorary Chair of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA-UK) Advisory Board and was until March 2015, Chairman of the not-for-profit International Cyber Security Protection Alliance (ICSPA).[48]

In October 2010, Blunkett proposed the creation of a 'Yorkshire Parliament' giving autonomy to the historic county with a similar funding formula to the Welsh Assembly's devolved budget, which would entitle Yorkshire to annual budget of around £24 Billion.[49]

One of his main interests is volunteering and community service. In 2011 he published a pamphlet calling for a National Volunteer Programme,[50] which received a wide range of support, particularly among third sector organisations. Since then, Blunkett has commenced putting together and becoming a founder of the Future For Youth Foundation, which sought to tackle high levels of unemployment in young people and which concluded its work in the summer of 2015.

He was a key voice in the 'No to AV' campaign in 2010–11[51] and has spoken out against the Government's proposed boundary changes.[52]

In September 2012 he published In Defence of Politics Revisited, where he set out a range of proposals to increase faith in, and improve the working of, democratic politics. Most recently he was awarded status as an Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences. In July 2013, Sheffield University announced Blunkett had become a Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics, in the world's first Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics.

He sits on the board of the National Citizen's Service Trust, a voluntary community service programme for 16- and 17-year-olds. From 2013 to 2014 he chaired a parliamentary inquiry with the Charities Aid Foundation into how giving to charities could be boosted. This reported in June 2014, making recommendations ranging from the inclusion of a ‘social action’ section on UCAS forms to the creation of a post-careers advice service, for those who are retiring but wish to continue giving in their community.

Between June 2013 and May 2014, Blunkett led a review into local oversight of schools and the raising of standards for the leader Ed Miliband and the Shadow Education Secretary. The ‘Blunkett Report’ was published in May 2014, and called for the creation of new independent Directors of School Standards to operate between local authorities. These directors would focus on bringing greater coherence to the process of school creation, raising standards and improving local accountability.

In June 2014, he announced he would not be contesting the election in the following year, stating that he had realised he would not be returning to the frontbenches. In his letter he wrote: "it is clear that the leadership of the Party wish to see new faces in Ministerial office and a clear break with the past".[1]

Personal life

Blunkett divorced his wife, by whom he had three sons, in 1990. In 2004 the News of the World revealed a three-year affair with a former publisher of The Spectator, and the disputed parentage of their then two-year-old child. After prolonged press speculation, DNA tests showed that Blunkett was the father.[53] In 2005, The People newspaper launch a cycle of media speculation about Blunkett's alleged relationship with a young woman. The newspaper later apologised, admitting that the story was entirely false. [54][55]

In January 2009, Blunkett announced that he was engaged to be married to Dr Margaret Williams, a doctor in Sheffield.[56] In October 2009 they were married.

Guide dogs

Blunkett's guide dogs – Ruby, Teddy, Offa, Lucy, Sadie and most recently Cosby[57][58][59][60] – have become familiar characters in the House of Commons, usually sleeping at his feet on the floor of the chamber, inspiring occasional witty comments from Blunkett and his fellow MPs on both sides of the house. In one memorable incident, Lucy (a black Labrador curly coat retriever cross) vomited during a speech by Conservative member David Willetts.[61] On occasions when Blunkett was guided by (then Prime Minister) Tony Blair the wry comment has been made: "who is guiding whom?" Another time, his (new) guide dog led him to the Conservative Party benches.[62]


Main article: The Blunkett Tapes

In October 2006, David Blunkett's audio diaries were published in his book The Blunkett Tapes: My Life in the Bear Pit. The tapes detail his time as a cabinet minister until the present date, and provide insights into the workings of the Labour cabinet. They were recorded every week, and contain his view of what was happening in Cabinet at the time, alongside contemporary reflections and more recent thoughts on the events.

He also published a light hearted dog orientated look back at his life so far, in On a Clear Day, published by Michael O'Mara Books in 1995.[63]

Blunkett has also co-authored a number of publications including Building from the Bottom (1982), published by the Fabian Society, and Democracy in Crisis (1987), published by Hogarth, which described the battle between local and central government in the Thatcher years. He has also contributed chapters to many books relating to politics and social policy and has also produced research papers with the University of Sheffield. Other publications include "Ladders Out of Poverty" in 2006 and "Mutual Action, Common Purpose" in 2009 (relating to the voluntary sector).[64][65]

Speaking career

Outside politics David Blunkett enjoys a career as a popular conference and after dinner speaker. His booking agency JLA state that his speech topics include "The Political Landscape, Overcoming Adversity, Social Responsibility and Diversity." [66] David Blunkett has also given lectures and contributed to debates at the Institute of Art and Ideas.[67] David Blunkett is available for hire for events as guest lecturer or speaker through a variety of different agents including JLA and Speakers Corner[68][69]

Popular culture references

The satirist Alistair Beaton wrote the television film A Very Social Secretary, for Channel 4, which was screened in October 2005.

He appears regularly both on news and magazine programmes, and he was the subject of an episode of The House I Grew up In.[12][70]


Blunkett has made many radio and television appearances. He took part in a celebrity version of Mastermind, where his specialist subject was Harry Potter.[71]

He was featured on the Channel Five documentary series 'Banged Up' in 2008.

Blunkett also appeared as a celebrity chef, competing against Gordon Ramsay, on season 4 episode 4 of the British television series The F Word.

He was interviewed as part of Armando Iannucci's examination of Milton's Paradise Lost, which screened in May 2009. In it Blunkett speculates on how Milton's service in Oliver Cromwell's government might have affected his beliefs and jokingly quotes the media as saying "He [Blunkett] is no Milton."


  1. 1 2 http://labourlist.org/2014/06/david-blunkett-to-step-down-as-an-mp/
  2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4057715.stm
  3. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4398004.stm
  4. 1 2 3 The Blunkett Tapes, David Blunkett, p.856
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  34. Tom Whitehead (4 November 2015). "MI5 and GCHQ secretly bulk collecting British public's phone and email records for years, Theresa May reveals". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 November 2015. In a surprise development, Mrs May confirmed to MPs that she and her predecessors have quietly approved warrants for bulk collection of communication data in the UK since 2001.
  35. "Here's the little-known legal loophole that permitted mass surveillance in the UK". The Register. 9 November 2015. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
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  37. "Airy fairy libertarians: Attack of the muesli-eaters?", BBC, 20 November 2001
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  61. "I therefore think it rather appropriate that, while the hon. Gentleman was speaking, the Secretary of State's dog was sick." Mr Don Foster (Bath), Commons Hansard, 11 March 1999, Column 526
  62. David Blunkett On a Clear Day, 1995, Michael O'Mara Books
  63. Blunkett, David; MacCormick, Alex (2002). On a Clear Day (Revised ed.). Michael O'Mara Books. ISBN 978-1-84317-007-5.
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  69. http://www.speakerscorner.co.uk/speaker/david-blunkett
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  71. "Blunkett flops in Mastermind quiz". BBC News. 24 December 2003. Retrieved 24 June 2010.


External links

Resignation as Home Secretary
Paternity battle
Political offices
Preceded by
George Wilson
Leader of the Sheffield City Council
Succeeded by
Clive Betts
Preceded by
Gillian Shephard
Secretary of State for Education and Employment
Succeeded by
Estelle Morris
as Secretary of State for Education and Skills
Preceded by
Jack Straw
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Charles Clarke
Preceded by
Alan Johnson
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Succeeded by
John Hutton
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Joan Maynard
Member of Parliament
for Sheffield Brightside

Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament
for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough

Succeeded by
Harry Harpham
Party political offices
Preceded by
Anthony Clarke
Chair of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Gordon Colling
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