Parliament: The Sketch - Home Secretary Seeks Some Clarity as He Comes under Fire from All Sides

Article excerpt

THREE DOOMED statements the Home Secretary habitually makes. They go: I want to make this point; let me make this perfectly clear; there's a fundamental misunderstanding that I'm going to clear up.

But first, this. The mop-headed MP for Henley, Boris Johnson, was presenting The Spectator's parliamentary awards the other week and introduced David Blunkett as possibly the world's first blind prime minister: not only would it be a great thing in itself, it would really annoy Gordon Brown (Mr Blunkett forgot to smile at this).

MPs suffer a variety of disabilities, most of them psychological. Mr Blunkett probably enjoys his fair share of them. But his blindness does, I think, cause him banal but important problems at the dispatch box.

At the last ministerial statement, Oliver Letwin, shadow Home Secretary, asked 15 questions, and Mr Blunkett replied to three of them. Not because he didn't want to answer the questions, but because he couldn't remember what they were.

Without a capacity to take notes (aren't there Braille machines for this?) you'd have to rely on a commanding memory. A powerful intellect might help you squeak out of trouble, too. Neither of these are the Home Secretary's most obvious gifts. Courage, yes, a stout heart and all that, these are good things which Mr Blunkett possesses in large measure. But the ability to hold in his head - or in his hand during a debate - a wide schedule of points that have to be made: no. There is a weakness there. It doesn't make him - what d'you call it? - prime ministerial.

Yesterday he was opposed from all sides of the House as he introduced his Anti-Terrorism Bill. …