David Blunkett, a member of the British Goverment, resigned from a Cabinet position the other day – for the second time in less than ten months. I don’t know if this is a record, but it certainly feels like it.
Blunkett’s second resignation came amidst claims that he’d failed to act in accordance with ministerial guidelines in relation to his ownership of shares, despite having been advised of the need to do so on three separate occasions. His first resignation came after a prolonged series of revelations about his private life, including a suggestion that he’d used his position to obtain preferential treatment for the nanny of his (married) lover.
Right, I think that just about marshals all the facts there. Oh, except for the fact that David Blunkett is blind.
Now, his blindness has no bearing on any of the above, but it certainly seems to act as something of an issue in discussion of him and his behaviour, for his apologists and detractors alike; indeed, in his speech to Parliament about Blunkett’s resignation, the Prime Minister made reference to Blunkett’s resilience in having overcome his blindness to have become a Minister. And on the other side of the coin, his blindness provides a convenient reference point for commentators to make comparisons between his lack of attention to following rules and his inability to see, and for satirists to make digs about; there was a frankly bewildering cartoon by Mac in the Daily Mail this week (viewed over someone’s shoulder on the tube, I hasten to add), which showed Blunkett in bed as his guide dog read him a bedtime story from a book headed ‘The Tale of Peter Mandelson’. As satire goes, it’s pretty heavy-handed, and seems rather uncertain of the abilities guide dogs actually have.
But I stray from my point, which is this: if Blunkett was truly fit for the post – well, the two Ministerial posts – his blindness should not have been an issue. Not one for his detractors to refer to as a handy jibe, and not one for his supporters to point at and say ‘ah, but he’s come so far’ and the like. The question should be: was he fit to hold the post? Clearly, the PM felt so. Twice, in fact.
Once in the post(s), however, the question becomes this: did he behave in a manner becoming of the role? And the answer here is a pretty obvious no. On more than one occasion, Blunkett used his position to personal advantage, and demonstrated a lack of adherence to the rules governing that position… which is more than slightly ironic in a man who was one of the more authoritarian Home Secretaries of recent times. Clearly a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’.
I was discussing this with someone the other day, and they suggested that Blunkett’s repeated failure to make the grade as a Minister could well raise questions as to whether a blind person is ever suited for such a position, but I disagreed; to take one facet of the man in that way, you might as well ask if it raises questions about bearded men in the Cabinet, or people from Sheffield. Physical capacity is one aspect of a person, and should be no more relevant than gender, religion or sexuality in assessing their suitability for a role – which is to say, irrelevant.
David Blunkett’s second resignation doesn’t raise issues about disability in the political sphere, it raises questions about honesty and integrity in politics. Imagine my surprise that events suggest both qualities are in rather short supply.
Honesty and integrity? Absent from the behaviour of politicians?
I know. I’m as shocked at the notion as you are.