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David Blunkett Had To Prove Himself As ‘Someone Who Couldn’t See’

January 23, 2018

David Blunkett has said that he tried “too hard” to prove that “someone who couldn’t see” could be an effective cabinet minister.

Now Lord Blunkett, he was a high-profile, charismatic – sometimes controversial – cabinet minister in the Tony Blair era.

In a interview with Sean Curran for BBC Parliament’s Conversations, he reflected on how he spent nights and weekends “doing the homework”. Looking back, he thought he “should have had a better life balance”.

He did it, though, because he “had to prove to himself and to the world that it could be done”.

Blind from birth, he attended a boarding school for blind children from the age of four. By the standards of modern parenting, the regime was not a gentle one but he thought boarding school brought two benefits.

“It allowed you to learn the tough parts of life. You had to just get up and do it. You had to clean your own shoes. You had to make your bed, you had to muck in and put up with bullies and deal with the rough and tumble of life.”

But there were costs to boarding school life too: “Sometimes that did feel alienating and probably you got less love and emotion than you would want.”

He evolved into a studious teenager, calling himself “an old fogey”.

“I was heads down, studying, being a bit boring, not getting into it. Looking back on it, I do regret that I was too serious, that I didn’t really go out and enjoy myself. “

He hastily added: “I don’t mean experiment. As I once said to someone at university who offered me drugs: I’ve got enough problems not being able to see without actually taking something else but it would have been nice to have had a bit more fun.”

David Blunkett became leader of Sheffield City Council in 1980 at the age of 33 and an MP in 1987. When Labour came to power in 1997, Tony Blair appointed him education secretary and promoted him to home secretary in 2001.

In his interview he reflects on Labour’s battle with Militant in the 1980s, his relationship with the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock and on coping with Parliament as a blind MP.

Aside from the parliamentary authorities asking if his guide dog was going to be “disruptive”, his main problem was getting extra resources to enable him to work “on equal terms”.

“This wasn’t about me. This was about a demonstration as to whether someone with a disability – someone who couldn’t see – could do the job on equal terms. That would have profound implications for people with disabilities. There was more at stake than David Blunkett.”

Looking back at his time in politics, he admitted: “I always wanted my own way, always wanted to go to the wire. That’s a good thing on occasions when you’re fighting for resources, but it can get up people’s noses a bit.”

It was his mother who taught him to fight for resources. She had a “tough life”, he said, but was “incredibly loving”.

When David Blunkett was 12 his father was killed after a horrific accident at work. His mother had to fight a long battle to get compensation from the Gas Board.

“She taught me never to take no for an answer,” he said.

You can watch Sean Curran’s interview with David Blunkett on BBC iPlayer.

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