How much does Blunkett’s departure weaken Blair?

How much does Blunkett’s departure weaken Blair?

The story may not be over
Blair and Blunkett
Before David Blunkett‘s resignation from the Cabinet yesterday, Liberal Democrat spokesman David Laws commented that Blunkett had “used up eight of his nine lives”. Number nine has gone now, in what must surely end any future hopes of high office.

But what does it mean for the other great survivor of politics, Tony Blair? Reinstating Blunkett in the Cabinet immediately after the General Election in May showed great faith in his character. That’s now been demonstrated as misplaced.

What’s more, the opposition parties should be able to pick up some connections worth investigating further.

During Blunkett’s two-week directorship of DNA Bioscience, he was able to buy £15,000 worth of shares in the company. As the company is currently private, this isn’t an opportunity that would have been open to any would-be investor not well enough connected to find a seat on the board. The shares weren’t only shadowy in the sense that they were put in trust for Blunkett’s sons, rather than held in his own name. In Blunkett’s resignation speech, he claimed:

“Did I declare that holding when I came back into government? Yes I did. Not only did I declare it in the required fashion, but I put it on my press release on May 6 and on the website from the department. I don’t think any other minister coming into government has ever done that before.”

You can see that press release for yourself here. It mentions Blunkett leaving the board of DNA Bioscience, but is silent about the shares.

A statement Blunkett made on Monday night, when he still hoped to remain in office, mentions another channel of disclosure: “I also notified my permanent secretary on appointment in writing of both my short time with DNA Bioscience and the shares I had purchased and then put into trust for my three eldest sons.”

If that’s an accurate recollection, then the shares – which the public has only learned of within the last fortnight – were known about long beforehand in the Civil Service, and following the trail of where that information went may keep the issue alive beyond yesterday’s resignation.

On top of that, a knife-edge vote on an amendment over provisions to outlaw “encouraging terrorism” makes it look like a pretty awful day for the Prime Minister.

My view has tended to be that Blair will serve as PM for the majority of this parliament, but for the first time in a while, betting on a relatively quick exit starts to look worthy of exploration. Currently you’ll get 7/4 against Blair’s term as PM finishing in 2007, and 7/2 against 2006.

Philip Grant
Guest editor

Mike Smithson returns at the weekend.

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