Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 15 January 2005

Blunkett: a study in opportunism

TONY MULHEARN, member of the group of Liverpool 47 councillors who fought the Thatcher government between 1983 and 1987, reviews David Blunkett by Stephen Pollard.

If the axiom 'by your friends shall you be known' was ever in question, Steven Pollard's autobiography of Blunkett dispels such doubts. 'A big beast' 'Extraordinary man'... 'Like no other in British history'... 'Awe-inspiring force of nature', are some of the epithets Blunkett's fall has provoked.

Pollard, an ex-Fabian who effortlessly made the transition to Thatcherism, describes Blunkett's "drive and determination", "his contempt for the Islington set", a "working class lad born into poverty". His experiences, Pollard argues, make him "incapable of betrayal".

Blunkett counts among his friends Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre; CEO of Murdoch's News International Les Hinton; his regular holiday companion is Paul Potts, CEO of the Press Association and deputy editor of the Daily Express in its most conservative phase.

Blunkett undoubtedly displayed personal qualities of tenacity by overcoming the obstacles inherent in blindness; but was that tenacity deployed in the interests of the working class?

Left rhetoric

On becoming active in the Labour movement, he soon recognised the value of left rhetoric in climbing the political ladder. Sheffield, with its steel and mining traditions and the struggles to defend them from Thatcherism, fuelled Blunkett's radicalism in the early years.

But, as Pollard says, while he was prepared to confront the Thatcher government,

"Blunkett's behaviour was always calculated...he was careful to provide himself with the means of backing down without losing face - and still gaining credibility on the Left as a national figure".

Blunkett himself is quoted as saying:

"Sheffield was unusual in that I believe we managed to be radical without the lunacy that affected some Labour councils. We were certainly distinct from Militant Tendency, which advocated old-style dictatorial policies, where voluntary organisations were persona non grata and decisions were made centrally and applied no matter what the local people wanted."

That Liverpool council had secured the highest Labour vote ever recorded for doing precisely what local people wanted is ignored.

His rank and file base, his prominent position in the rate-capping campaign, Neil Kinnock's elevation as leader of the Labour Party, and the resignation of Frank Allaun which created a vacancy on Labour's National Executive Committee, allowed Blunkett to be catapulted onto that body by Labour Party conference in 1983.

He became a national figure of the Left who would subsequently be a willing collaborator of the Right. Acting on Blunkett's recommendation, Sheffield Council abandoned the rate-capping campaign that left Liverpool and Lambeth, as Pollard concedes, "as the only two councils who refused to knuckle under".


A key section of the book regurgitates the distortion and outright lies about Liverpool. Blunkett claims he became convinced Kinnock was right to attack Liverpool council after they rejected the Stonefrost Report's (a commission set up after the 1985 Labour Party conference to investigate Liverpool's finances) 'solution' to Liverpool's crisis.

Stonefrost proposed a fifteen percent rate increase (in addition to the nine per cent already agreed), abandoning the housebuilding programme and a 'small number' of job losses.

This was Blunkett's excuse to throw in his lot with Kinnock. He describes a rally he attended in Liverpool on 4 November 1985 when he was going to 'tell them straight' to accept Stonefrost. Pollard quotes Blunkett:

"I'm not susceptible to visual intimidation. It has to be verbal not visual to work on me and, since the cameras were there, they could not do that. But I could feel John Hamilton (then leader of the council) physically shaking next to me.

It was one of those moments you never want to go through but it was seminal. It was when the left outside Militant decided that it was prepared to take them on."

I chaired that rally of 800 in the Philharmonic Hall. I can't recall any intimidation or John Hamilton shaking - in fact he received an ovation when he reiterated his determination to resist any cuts. Thus Blunkett relies on Salem's spectral evidence: intimidation didn't happen but, without the cameras, he knew it would have.

Another working-class lad and leading witch-hunter, ex-NUPE (public sector trade union which merged into UNISON) official Tom Sawyer, is also resurrected to utter the same baseless charges.

In a priceless quote he describes a Liverpool District Labour Party meeting: "In an atmosphere of intimidation fuelled by parading security guards and hundreds of non-delegates, NUPE reps were threatened and intimidated because they would not toe the Militant line. Some of the things I saw as a member of the Liverpool inquiry (the witch-hunt committee) have more in common with the extreme right in European politics than with the left."

The only thing he got right was that it was a very large gathering of delegates and visitors. From the chair, I saw a number of static security staff who had came to the meeting straight from work and so were still in their working gear.

He produces no evidence of intimidation, nor names any names. Sawyer went on to move the suspension of the Liverpool party, with Blunkett seconding the motion. He was duly rewarded by being interred in the House of Lords.

Witch hunter

At the NEC, Blunkett confirms Kinnock had already decided to go for expulsions. Tony Mulhearn was the first. Harry Smith survived because, in Blunkett's words:

"After agonising I decided that the real factor that counted in his (Harry's) favour was that he was the only 'accusee' with a sense of humour."

Kinnock concurred. Harry's reprieve was the token symbol of the 'fairness' of the kangaroo court. He continues to this day to be a vigorous supporter of the Socialist Party.

Blunkett was metamorphosing into the finished article. Brian Gould, the man who 'masterminded' Labour's catastrophic defeat in 1987, praised Blunkett for his 'suppleness of mind'.

He opposed selection in education, later to become a supporter; he opposed the plan to ditch Clause Four (the clause in the constitution of the Labour Party that committed it to fight for a socialist transformation of society), only to embrace its abolition immediately prior to joining Blair's inner circle.

The press praised him for his tough stance with the teachers' unions.


After resigning Blunkett complained that he was a working-class lad who had been brought down by the millionaires whose company he so eagerly sought.

Not for the first time in history has the Labour movement spawned a 'working-class lad' who becomes seduced by the trappings of capitalist power, accepts their praise and eventually deludes themselves that they are in their exalted positions by dint of their own inborn ability and not because the Labour movement propelled them there.

Socialists will not regret Blunkett's departure, but it would have been a real victory had he and his cronies been removed by the mass votes of the working class and replaced by a leadership committed to socialism, rather than the consequences of a liaison with one of the glitterati.

This biography reveals a man who believed himself untouchable, either from the Labour movement or from the press that, he believed, he could manipulate by relying on his network of 'friends' and contacts.

Unusually it was not the tabloids which unleashed the pack, but the so-called quality press. However, the media did not universally welcome his demise. Already a press campaign is under way for him to return to the cabinet after the next general election.

It is a matter of pride that similar sentiments were never afforded to the Liverpool 47 when they were surcharged and removed from office in 1987.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 15 January 2005:

Tsunami disaster: cancel the debt

Tsunami disaster: It's business as usual for the politicians

Tsunami disaster: Will the West's aid ever arrive?

Action needed on global warming

Sri Lanka after the tsunami - opportunities and tensions

End the occupation of Iraq

Protest against the occupation of Iraq

Racist police beat up Palestinian student

A workers' leader on a worker's wage

An eventful year for a Socialist councillor

Blunkett: a study in opportunism

Coventry single status 'deal' - but same rip-off

Dirty profits hit hospitals

Vera Drake


Home   |   The Socialist 15 January 2005   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:

David Blunkett:

triangleHow Blairism sank its claws into the Labour Party

triangleWhen organised mass action defeated the Tories

triangleSchools - Would things get better under Labour?

Tony Mulhearn:

triangleSupport for socialist programme in Labour Liverpool rally

triangleFight the cuts: Demand no-cuts council budgets

triangleThe Socialist inbox

triangleThe Socialist Inbox


triangle'Dazzling' Bad Art show points to socialist future

triangleCan you donate to the Socialism 2017 appeal?

triangleLiverpool Socialist Party: Racism and capitalism, the link


triangleSheffield Labour council threatens peaceful protesters with prison

triangleHundreds turn out for rally aimed at removing west Wales Tory MP

Labour Party:

triangleUnite local government sector plans strike ballot


triangleReadmit the socialists - for a federal Labour Party

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns


North West

Arriva North West bus drivers strike over pay


Democratic rights

Conference on state spies: who's watching who?



Striking back against sackers' charter at Leeds Uni


Royal Mail

Royal Mail bosses block strike - back postal workers



Balloting members on the pay cap



'Dazzling' Bad Art show points to socialist future



Sheffield Labour council threatens peaceful protesters with prison


South West Wales

Hundreds turn out for rally aimed at removing west Wales Tory MP



Uprising to save the NHS!



Can you donate to the Socialism 2017 appeal?


East London

No cuts - hands off King George A&E!


North London

North London hospital workers fight cuts and job losses



Nationalise to save jobs at BAE Systems



Schools "can't go any further" - stop the cuts: set deficit budgets now



Socialist Students 'welcome' Hillary Clinton to Swansea

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle19 Oct Arriva North West bus drivers strike over pay

triangle18 Oct Russia, October 1917: When workers took power

triangle18 Oct Tories torn - bin them now

triangle18 Oct Royal Mail bosses block strike - back postal workers

triangle18 Oct Balloting members on the pay cap

triangle13 Oct The end of the Tories?

triangle11 Oct Nasty party out the Tories

More ...

triangle21 Oct Birmingham: NSSN Solidarity Forum

triangle23 Oct Chesterfield Socialist Party: The continuing struggle for abortion rights

triangle24 Oct Liverpool Socialist Party: The October Russian Revolution 100 years ago to the day

triangle25 Oct Salford Socialist Party: The October 1917 Russian revolution

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017





















Platform setting: = No platform choice