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.