» Thursday, December 16, 2004

David Blunkett

Asked what the Prime Minister’s reaction to David Blunkett’s resignation at Cabinet was, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that obviously everyone was very sad about David Blunkett’s departure from the Cabinet, and the Prime Minister was sure that everyone would agree that Charles Clarke would be a brilliant Home Secretary. He also congratulated Ruth Kelly on her appointment as Secretary of State for Education.

Asked what else came up at Cabinet, the PMOS replied the issues on the agenda today were Geoff Hoon’s outline to colleagues about the nature of his announcement this afternoon, and there was a discussion about the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act that will come into effect from January. Jack Straw also outlined to colleagues the position in terms of negotiations over Turkey in the EU.

Asked if the Prime Minister was now embarrassed after his comments that David Blunkett could continue on as Home Secretary and that he would be exonerated, the PMOS said absolutely not. What the Prime Minister had said was the inquiry should be allowed to do its job, but that he expressed his confidence in David Blunkett while the inquiry continued. He had also said at his press conference that a private life should remain private, but what there could not be was any blurring between private and public. David Blunkett said in his statement that he accepted that what had happened could have been perceived as that, which was why he chose to go. The Prime Minister admired the integrity with which David Blunkett approached this matter and the way he made his decision.

Asked if anything had gone wrong in the Home Office, the PMOS replied that what needed to be done was to recognise that the Budd Inquiry was still ongoing, and to therefore wait for the final report. What was set out yesterday was David Blunkett’s statement and the timeline that had been agreed by Sir Alan Budd of what happened. Those set out very factually the basis on which David Blunkett reached his decision.

Asked why the Prime Minister appeared to prejudge the Budd Inquiry by commenting before the final report came out, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister believed David Blunkett had been honest in terms of setting out what his recollection was of the events, and then, yesterday, accepting the fact that events did not fully support that recollection and then taking responsibilty for the gap between the two. In terms of the approach that David Blunkett had shown, he had shown great dignity in very difficult times. The Prime Minister believed that the public would acknowledge that.

Asked if David Blunkett would be invited back to the Cabinet, the PMOS replied that we dealt with one reshuffle at a time. The Prime Minister made clear his continuing admiration for David Blunkett.

Asked whether there would be any news on the Budd Inquiry now that David Blunkett had resigned, the PMOS said he still did not expect anything this week.

Asked if recent events had prejudged the Budd Inquiry, the PMOS replied that an independent process had been set up to carry out an investigation. It found that facts that were inconsistent with what David Blunkett had said, and the former Home Secretary took responsibility for those inconsistencies. What that showed was not only an integrity about David Blunkett’s response to the events, but also an integrity about the process.

Asked whether David Blunkett’s resignation had been inevitable, the PMOS replied that at the meeting yesterday, it had been agreed that David Blunkett should resign. What we tried to do throughout, and what was right to do, was separate out the various issues that were around, and concentrate on the issue that was being investigated, and place the responsibility for establishing the facts for that issue with Sir Alan Budd. Sir Alan Budd had done his job, and for that, he was to be commended.

Asked to comment on David Davies comments that there was a cover up in the Home Office, the PMOS said he was not going to get involved in party political matters. The important thing was that Sir Alan Budd had carried his investigation to this point, and would continue to do so until he had completed his report. In terms of the way that the investigation had gone so far, Sir Alan Budd agreed the timeline which set out a factual record of what had occurred. This was published yesterday alongside David Blunkett’s statement.

Asked why the Prime Minister was able to take David Blunkett’s word, but not Peter Mandelson’s, and did he therefore have more trust in the former Home Secretary, the PMOS said that past events were past events and he was not going to go over them again.

Asked if the Prime Minister knew about David Blunkett’s plans to resign before PMQs, the PMOS replied that he did not know before PMQs of his news or of his intention to resign.

Asked if anyone in Downing Street knew anything about the resignation plans at all beforehand, the PMOS repeated that Downing Street did not know what the Home Secretary’s intentions were before PMQs.

Asked if the Prime Minister knew about the conversation between Sir Alan Budd and David Blunkett would consist of, the PMOS said he did not.

Asked if in theory, the Home Secretary had not wanted to burden the Prime Minister with a resignation before PMQs, the PMOS replied that he did not comment on any hypothetical past or future events.

Asked what had actually happened yesterday afternoon, and how had events unravelled, the PMOS said they met mid afternoon at No10.

Asked about David Blunkett’s "selective amnesia" regarding the email concerning a visa application, the PMOS replied that the details were set out in the timeline by Sir Alan Budd, and no doubt his report would explain further. That was where we were.

Asked again about David Blunkett’s future, the PMOS repeated his earlier answer that the Prime Minister had clearly set out in his letter his respect for David Blunkett, and that respect was still there.

Asked whether the Prime Minister had tried to dissuade the former Home Secretary from resigning, the PMOS said he had not.

Asked if Charles Clarke had the right to change any of David Blunkett’s agenda or plans, the PMOS relied that no-one underestimated the contribution that David Blunkett had made. At the same time, any objective observer would note the commitment the Prime Minister had personally shown to issues such as anti social behaviour, countering terrorism and promoting taking on crime. These were not issues that the Prime Minister had not been associated with, as they were very high on his agenda, as well as on the Government’s as a whole. Charles Clarke had outlined on the "Today Programme" his firm commitment to that agenda.

Asked if David Blunkett had resigned because of something he had done, or because of something someone else had done, the PMOS said he had resigned because there was a mismatch between the events he had set out originally compared to those that Sir Alan Budd had discovered them to be.

Asked why the Prime Minister had chosen Ruth Kelly to be Education Secretary, the PMOS replied she had wide experience in Government and had shown her ability during her various jobs. In recent months, the Prime Minister had worked closely with her in her role as Minister for the Cabinet Office, and she was someone for whom he had a large amount of respect. As Education Secretary, no doubt she would show those capabilities, as the warmth and welcome of her Cabinet colleagues this morning showed.

Asked why David Miliband was moved into the Cabinet Office when he was experienced Education Minister, the PMOS replied that he was not going to get into personnel matters in terms of the running of the government. David Miliband was widely experienced, not only in the education area, but also in other policy areas, which was why he was chosen.

Asked if it was wise to remove two senior Ministers from the same department at the same time, the PMOS replied that in terms of the future direction of the department, it was clearly set out at the time of the 5 year plan. There was a clear agenda, clearly thought through and articulated, and Ruth Kelly was someone who was more than capable of driving through that agenda.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

1 Comment »

  1. "the PMOS replied that he was not going to get into personnel matters in terms of the running of the government"

    An irrelevant detail; why should the country wish or need to know anything about the running of the government, the people we the electorate elect to GOVERN our affairs, not run for their own sake.

    What utter unbelievable arrogance!

    In that one statement alone, the PMOS (and by extension the PM and the government) succinctly sums up the attitude of our ruling elite. We, the electorate, are irrelevant until such time as our help is needed in securing their positions for another term.

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 16 Dec 2004 on 5:20 pm | Link

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