Coffee House

The wit and wisdom of David Blunkett

21 June 2014

10:31 AM

21 June 2014

10:31 AM

David Blunkett has announced that he’ll be standing down at the next election. ‘It is clear that the leadership of the party wish to see new faces in ministerial office and a clear break with the past,’ he said — I’m not sure if that’s a coded reference to Miliband’s unfinished purge of those who ran Labour at a time when it won elections. But it did make me think of two things

Blunkett’s career has been absolutely extraordinary, a blind man who was still able to read so much that he’d shoot me a caustic email, sometimes even threatening to sue me, if I wrote anything about him that he considered unfair. He was never under-briefed, and never showed any sign of his disability. He managed politics – the rousing speeches, even the sex scandals –  as well as anyone. Unlike some of those now running Westminster, he never sounded as if he had walked from the pages of a political textbook. Always interesting to listen to, always original and often funny.


I once returned from a summer holiday, refreshed and shorn of my normal cynical approach to politics, and watched Blunkett from the Parliamentary Press Gallery – marvelling at the obstacles he has overcome, at his eloquence, his effectiveness. In spite of everything, he did not play politics at a handicap. Indeed, 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.

We at The Spectator have been fans of his (some of us a little too ardent in our affection, but that chapter’s closed now — and with its own play). When he left government in 2005 he mentioned a poem: the Indispensable Man, by Saxon White Kessinger. It’s a brilliant poem, and says much about his humility (can you think of another high-ranking minister who would quote this poem on the way out?).

It’s a poem that anyone with an important job should try to remember, lest they are ever deluded into thinking that the place would fall apart without them:

Sometime when you’re feeling important;
Sometime when your ego’s in bloom;
Sometime when you take it for granted,
You’re the best qualified in the room:
Sometime when you feel that your going,
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions,
And see how they humble your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining,
Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.
You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop, and you’ll find that in no time,
It looks quite the same as before.

The moral of this quaint example,
Is to do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There’s no indispensable man.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • ted hagan

    I remember Blunkett telling a story about answering the door to a very serious-looking young policeman who informed Blunkett that the previous night he had been reported as having been seen racing through the town in his car at speeds of up to 80mph. Blunkett gently pointed out the date to the young officer. April 1.

  • davidhill

    Not much wisdom really and just another job in reality. In this respect like all Secretaries of State, they are mere figureheads and Whitehall are the ones who make things happen or NOT.

    Although I have always had sympathy for Mr Blunkett’s disablement and have met him face-to-face concerning one of Britain’s greatest ever-growing problems, he was like all other Home Secretaries that went before him and after. In this respect they listen and outwardly state that they will do something about a national problem but where then they just simply leave it to Whitehall. This is where the whole government process falls down and unknown to the British people why cover-ups and self-interest intervene. The problem in question was the elimination of long-term hard drug addiction through the introduction of a humane treatment that detoxifies in 72-hours and where there is no ‘cold turkey’, the main reason why the 100s of thousands of class ‘A’ addicts never come off hard drugs and stay in a state of limbo just taking the maintenance drug methadone et al that costs the country 10s of millions of pounds every year.

    Therefore Mr Blunkett in general terms was no different to all other home secretaries who leave it to Whitehall to bury it –

    That is one of the main reasons why the status quo and don’t rock the boat mentality of Whitehall keeps the country backwards. Fact not fiction unfortunately as history has recorded.

  • Mrs Josephine Hyde-Hartley

    This’d be a great poem for modern spy types, I think, if the end could be tweaked accordingly;

    “The moral of this quaint example,
    Is to do just the best that you can,
    Be proud of yourself but remember,
    To leave no evidence..”

  • Lucy Sky Diamonds

    Blind in more ways than one

    • Wessex Man

      naughty but nice!

  • Bluesman_1

    Moderated out at last. Anyone might think that this magazine and Blunkett were as thick as thieves.

  • sarahsmith232

    if the person Blunkett understands that a Secretary of State should always keep a check on their ego, it’s a shame he didn’t ever bother to work out that that will equally apply to an extension of that ego – their political ideology.
    Blunkett’s dismissivee of people that oppose their mass, open-door policy and openly stated that they were right because ‘we were on the side of the angles’. If that’s not an ego run irresponsibly, insanely out of control, then I don’t know what is.

    • Chris Morriss

      If only there was a politician who was “On the side of the Angles (sic)”.

      • sarahsmith232

        Ok dear, i’m prob’ not intelligent enough to work out what that means.

        • Wessex Man

          I wouldn’t worry about it in fact I’ve given you a tick up because I agree with everything said, sorry written!

          • sarahsmith232

            Thanks dearie, enjoy your day.

        • Chris Morriss

          I assume you meant in your original post, to rearrange the famous words of Pope Gregory 1st: “Non angli sed angeli”.
          Or possibly you meant Angles rather than Angels all along 🙂

    • Kitty MLB

      Agreed but David Blunkett as far as I know happens to be
      the only one who has said Labour got it wrong on immigration.The leftie controlled media soon hid that comment under the carpet.I know it doesn’t excuse anything
      but I was suprised at the acknowledgement.

      • sarahsmith232

        hello Kitty, how are you?
        You know, I would have to just say, you know the reason why he apparently had a sudden about turn as far as the effects of immigration is concerned? ‘Cause it’s now starting to negatively impact on the Pakistani community in his constituency. It’s the Pakistani’s that are angry about the disruptive effects of an influx of Roma, so suddenly he becomes a Labour politician that’s concerned and receptive to the idea that mass immigration can create unpleasant outcomes. Funny the way that when it was ‘merely’ the rest of us he was only too happy to close his ears, tell us all we’re not worth listening to, we’re all scum, racists, fascists.
        Shocking really, I just can’t believe there are still people left in this country that believe that Labour is still on their side. If I was the product of their open-door, then yes, they’re without doubt on their side, outside of that, they’re the enemy.

    • MikeF

      The Angles were one of the Germanic tribes who helped form Anglo-Saxon Britain – the legacy of which in late 20th Century Britain New Labour, as we now know, set out quite deliberately to destroy. So you could say that by being on the side of the angels, as he believed in his self-worshipping way, Blunckett was anything but on the side of the Angles.

  • Kitty MLB

    The Wit and Wisdom of David Blunkett.
    The gentleman said if Labour lose the next election they will
    be in the political widerness for the next 30 years…
    that is wisdom and for David Blunkett to say he believes
    Ed ‘ the unready’ Milipede will be in Downing Street that is
    the most witty thing i have heard from Labour for quite a while
    well forever actually.t

  • Swiss Bob

    “We at The Spectator have been fans of his”

    Fans of the leader of ‘The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire’, declared a nuclear free zone and where he flew the Red Flag over Sheffield town hall?

    Fans of this: Blunkett became hysterical and ‘shrieked’ that the prison must be re-taken without regard to loss of life and that rioters should be machine-gunned if necessary. Narey concluded that Blunkett was not up to the job.

    A man sacked from two cabinet jobs, once for being incompetent and once for dishonesty.

    In Labour terms I suppose that’s quite successful.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Oh, you mean bonkers Blunkett?
      How’s Kimberly doing, Dave? I bet you didn’t see that coming.

      • swatnan

        Whatever did he see in Kim?

  • @PhilKean1

    David Blunkett.

    A REALLY nice man, and someone who, more than anything else, epitomised the utter madness of Labour’s ridiculous policy of demonstrative political correctness.

    Why? Let me give you an example of something that, when he was Home Secretary, David Blunkett might have said to his assistant. – “Can you get the car here for 09:30, please, because I need to go and see for myself the damage caused by the rioters”.

    I will never accept that a blind Home Secretary is properly equipped to do that job.

    • backstoothewall

      Ditto walking down a street and being appalled by the number of foreigners, none so blind as cannot see.

  • davidraynes

    Blunkett’s Ministerial career was however marked by an extraordinary gaffe when he was Home Secretary.

    As the first witness to an HASC drugs policy enquiry in 1992 (on which David Cameron was sitting), Blunkett said he was “minded” to declassify cannabis thus, he had been in post a very short time and could not possibly have briefed himself on all the implications. He thus prejudged the enquiry.

    In what became known as “Blunkett’s BLunderation”, he did lower the classification, & confuse potential users (with Cameron apparently agreeing) . A policy that was reversed by Labour in 2009. (With Cameron certainly agreeing).

    Interestingly, two weeks after Blunkett essentially downgraded cannabis, Simon Jenkins a drug legalisation lobbyist, suggested in the Times that Blunkett looked like a next Leader of Labour.

    Jenkins and Blunkett, both wrong.

    • Wessex Man

      as always.

  • Darnell Jackson

    Did you consider the flexible digital subscription?

    I downloaded a copy from Amazon recently but without interaction it is a poor solution