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Mugging the truth to spin Blunkett's comeback

Would you buy an audit trail from this Government?

Analysis David Blunkett, amnesiac, hadn't even left the stage last Wednesday night when David Blunkett, straight-talking, noble force for good, brought down by love and vindictive pygmies, began to re-emerge. With a little more work he could - if we are not careful - complete the fastest political rehabilitation in history and be ready for a speedy return to government.

So we should be very careful, and resist succumbing to general amnesia - David Blunkett was not laid low by love, but because he played fast and loose with the power he held as Home Secretary, and because he was, and remains, less than truthful about this. He most certainly did not, as Tony Blair claims, leave government "with this integrity intact", and at the very least he left government with his judgment deeply suspect, and his capacity for finally arriving at the truth unproven.

By some lights his sins are minor - one small immigration issue expedited, the odd mistake over a rail ticket, deployment of perks and use of country facilities that'd count as pretty low level in the business world. But government ought to be different, the rules in government are different, and a Minister who shows a readiness to grant special favours, alongside an apparent inability to own up to it before being forced to, should give us some pause for thought. This is particularly so in the case of the Home Secretary, who this year gave himself emergency powers to suspend every law in the country, and whose defence of an increasingly repressive raft of legislation leant heavily on 'trust me.'

But we can't, and we shouldn't. The trust issue shouldn't simply affect our views of Blunkett and of the department running the police, the security services and ID database, because the approach taken to the presentation of inconvenient and embarrassing facts throughout the Blunkett affair is no different from the way the current government operates in general. The objective is not to report, explain and justify but to present - what is actually true is of little consequence, while what the public can be induced to believe is true is of vital importance. Civil servants are co-opted and compromised in support of the party, not the country, and what is seen as good for the party and the leader is seen as being, by definition, good for everyone. Truth is what we say it is.

So in the broader areas of policing and security, polls (not hard data) showing increased public perceptions of crime and terror problems are played up to and reinforced by heavily-spun but largely pointless 'tough measures' that will play at the ballot box, while in the case of Blunkett the facts are slowly mugged into the background (by everybody from Tony Blair down) in preparation for the return of a fundamentally decent, straight-talking man who Speaks for the People. If we can grasp how the latter process works, it may equip us better to deal with the former, with or without Blunkett's second coming.

The legend

Blunkett himself, never slow to find someone else to blame for his problems, did a fine impression of the wronged hero in last week's resignation interviews, and the press the following day did the rest. According to The Guardian, "Blunkett made clear that he had risked - and halted - his career for love", while Blunkett himself said: "I misunderstood that someone could do this, not just to me, but to a little one as well."

Responding to Blunkett's letter of resignation, Tony Blair said: "You leave government with your integrity intact and your achievements acknowledged by all. You are a force for good in British politics and can take great pride in what you have done to improve the lives of people in this country."

The Guardian added: "Mr Blunkett's dignified departure is likely to boost public respect", and reported that parliamentary colleagues were "'furious and gutted'... the surprise resignation prompted widespread sympathy for a man seen as 'hounded out' over his personal problems rather than for fast-tracking a visa... There was also 'immense anger' at Labour backbenchers such as Diane Abbot and Peter Kilfoyle, who in recent days have called for his resignation, and Bob Marshall-Andrews, who yesterday morning told BBC 4's Today programme he was 'quite seriously unbalanced'. That had only shored up support."

The liberal Graun did not, thankfully, directly embrace the Shakespearian tragedy scenario that was being busily unveiled by much of the popular press, but rolled out Roy Hattersley on the miniscule nature of Blunkett's trangressions, and a depiction of his antagonists by Polly Toynbee as "frivolous rightwing effete scoundrels." By Sunday 'friends of Blunkett' were telling The Observer that: "There seems to be a big disinformation campaign starting almost immediately from Condé Nast and the people supporting her,' the friend said. 'It's very much the American millionairess who's managed to knock out the working-class lad who's the voice of ordinary people... it would appear that Alan Budd appears to have been as mesmerised by Kimberly as he [Blunkett] was.'"

The villains are therefore the right-wing millionnaire hypnotists the Quinns, for dragging Blunkett's personal life into the gutter, and the press (led by Vogue????), for hounding him out of office. Blunkett merely loved too much, and did it all, up to and including 'sacrificing' his career, for his son. By Sunday evening Blunkett himself was stressing that he had complete trust in Budd, but his "friends" had already done the damage - "disinformation"?

Next page: Morphing the truth

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