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David Blunkett

Fri, 07/20/2012 - 14:00 -- admin

David Blunkett

Former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Visual impairment : Blind since birth

Born in Sheffield, David Blunkett grew up in poverty after his father was killed in an industrial accident. Educated at schools for the blind in Sheffield and Shrewsbury, his chances in life seemed limited. Nevertheless he won a place at the University of Sheffield, and became the youngest-ever councillor on Sheffield City Council at the age of 22. He became well-known as a left-wing figure while leader of that council in the 1980s, and was elected to the Labour Party's National Executive Committee.

At the 1987 general election he was elected MP for Sheffield Brightside. He became a party spokesman on local government, joined the shadow cabinet in 1992 as Shadow Health Secretary, and became Shadow Education Secretary in 1994. Combining reforming zeal with social conservatism, he became a favourite of new party leader Tony Blair.

After Labour's landslide victory in the 1997 general election, he became the UK's first blind cabinet minister as Secretary of State for Education and Employment. Education Secretary was a vital role in a government whose Prime Minister had described his priorities as "education, education, education", and which had made reductions in school class sizes a key pledge. In the event it was higher education that proved to be the most controversial issue for Blunkett, as he moved towards the imposition of tuition fees at public universities which had traditionally been free.

At the start of the Labour government's second term in 2001, Blunkett was promoted to become Home Secretary. Immigration and asylum were central issues for Blunkett at the Home Office. In December 2001 he controversially called for immigrants to develop a greater "sense of belonging" to Britain. In April 2002 he proposed new powers to crack down on illegal immigration and unfounded claims for political asylum.

Another controversial area for Blunkett has been civil liberties (which he famously described as "airy fairy"). In 2003 he announced an extension of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act which critics have condemned as a "snoopers' charter". His 2003 Criminal Justice Bill reduced legal safeguards such as the right to trial by jury and double jeopardy rules. He is attempting to introduce compulsory national identity cards (initially called "entitlement cards", though this euphemism has now been dropped).

These measures have earned him the nickname Big Blunkett, a reference to the Orwellian concept of Big Brother.

In December 2004, Blunkett was rocked by controversy when the UK press published allegations that a visa application for his ex-lover's nanny had been fast-tracked. Blunkett denied any wrongdoing but resigned accepting responsibility for what had happened. Tony Blair appreciated his decision to resign saying he had left the government with his integrity intact.

In the week following the resignation Blunkett was further criticized for giving his ex-lover, Mrs. Quinn, a rail pass meant for an MP's spouse. He apologized for the mistake and paid back the cost.

Blunkett's time on the backbenches was short-lived. He returned to the Cabinet after the May 2005 general election as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and was seen as a close ally of Prime Minister Tony Blair. However, he was forced to resign a second time just six months later, over his failure to abide by a ministerial code of conduct.

Blunkett's guide dogs: Teddy, Offa, Lucy, and now Sadie - have become familiar characters at Westminster, inspiring occasional witty comments from Blunkett and his fellow MPs on both sides of the house, but in general his blindness does not arouse much comment.
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Friday, June 6, 1947
United Kingdom

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