Charlie Whelan: Blunkett personifies his off-course party

In the dying days of the John Major government, words of ‘support’ from Number 10 for a minister under siege from the media were pretty much a guarantee that within days he or she would be out of a job. Worryingly for Tony Blair, his government is starting to display similarities.

David Blunkett may have had 'the full support of the PM', but where were the rest of his colleagues offering their backing? The silence is partly explained by the rubbishing many of them received from the Work and Pensions minister in an authorised biography last year.

In fact, there is so little love for Blunkett that the broadcasters have had trouble finding anyone to offer a sympathetic soundbite. It all seems so different from a few years ago, when Blunkett was seen as a straight-talking home secretary. He was widely praised for overcoming his blindness by everyone, including the Daily Mail. But even Mail editor Paul Dacre couldn't save him as he faced the scandal over allegations that he fast-tracked a passport for his lover's nanny. The home secretary may have had good media contacts, but his lover had even better PR advice. These days, few politicians survive once the media has them in their sights, and you can fall a lot more quickly than you rise. Take note, David Cameron.
Blunkett's problem this time around is a bit like Peter Mandelson's of old. Mandelson may have broken the rules in not divulging his 1996 home loan, but it was the size of the loan that did for him in Labour circles when it was belatedly disclosed. How many Labour folk could afford a house like his? Blunkett has similarly lost his 'man of the people' image.

But Blunkett's fall is a sign of general indiscipline in the cabinet, as revealed in last week's spat over smoking legislation. The infamous New Labour PR machine is struggling with the lack of unity.

All this inevitably reminds Labour MPs of the run-up to 1997, and it's no wonder we are hearing Westminster mutterings of 'Blair must go now'.

Gordon Brown may abandon his cautious instincts and strike, particularly after some sinister briefings from the Blairite camp. These include rumours that Cameron could actually be a better man to take on the Blair legacy than Brown. Cameron may joke that he is the natural 'heir' to Blair, but I would not be surprised if some in Number 10 believe it.

As 5 November approaches, many Labour MPs are expecting  more political fireworks. They recognise a Tory revival and are beginning to demand one of their own.

charlie.whelan@haynet.com 

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