Byline: ANNE MCELVOY
THE Home Secretary David Blunkett has embarked on a round of apologies to all Cabinet colleagues he trashed in conversations with his biographer Stephen Pollard. He may be some time.
We have had one of those rare, enjoyable Gerald Ratner moments, when an over-candid remark lays bare truths usually concealed underneath layers of polite waffle. Mr Blunkett did not quite say that the Government was, er, rubbish and it was a mystery to him why people still voted for it, but his assessment of key performers was far more pungent than the ritualistic insults meted out by the Opposition.
From his dry assessment of Jack Straw, lobbying in the mantle of a great statesman for the EU accession of Eastern European states one minute and then "stoking total panic" about the resulting adverse impact on immigration statistics the next, to John Prescott's preening obsession with his own importance, Charles Clarke "taking his foot off the accelerator" on education reforms, and Tessa Jowell dismissed in that most potent of political insults as plain "weak" over her handling of the casino Bill - the Home Secretary's truth-telling session is one precision missile after another dropped on his colleagues.
He could not have known when he spoke to Mr Pollard, well before his present troubles, that all this would surface now, though he was clearly prepared for it to do so at some time when he was still in office, so he can hardly be described as cautious.
IBUMPED into one of the Cabinet ministers in question last night, who observed curtly that Mr Blunkett was "pushing it" to expect much in the way of ardent support after this. Another former Blunkett colleague joked - in a gritted teeth sort of way - that he had "got off lightly" for only being derided on grounds of social opportunism.
They will affect insouciance. They will swear forgiveness and assure Mr Blunkett of the absence of any hard feelings. But they will not forget.
Politicians never do.
Mr Blunkett has, however, been fortunate in his recent travails in securing the backing of both Mr Blair, who does not want to lose his Home Secretary in the run-up to the election, and Mr Brown, who is anxious to reassure senior Cabinet memhasbers that not all their careers will be swinging from lampposts if he becomes leader.
In the context of this beckoning but fraught succession, Mr Blunkett was merciless about Jack Straw's twist from Blair to Brown. The Foreign Secretary is indeed one of those nifty flatfish which swims adroitly through New Labour's torrid waters, deftly turning this way and that so that he is never caught on the wrong side of the tide.
Mr Straw and Mr Blunkett are old foes. Since Mr Blunkett campaigned openly to succeed Mr Straw at the Home Office and then complained noisily that it was a " shambles" when he got there, that is not surprising.
But how effective has Mr Blunkett really been since in his own back yard?
His great talent has been ensuring that any difficult questions and accusations of failure do not attach themselves to him, often by launching preemptive strikes …