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David Blunkett Hardcover – 2005
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It is an unfinished story because Blunkett's career is currently in abeyance, and of course because he is, happily, very much alive. There are a number of ways in which I find the book unsatisfactory, so let me begin by saying that it is a very useful production in the basic sense that it provides a clear and seemingly accurate account of as much as I should imagine most will want to know about David Blunkett, if not indeed quite a lot more. On finishing the book I immediately reread the author's preface to check what kind of book he thought he was writing. He considers it a `painting' rather than a `photograph' apparently, which leaves me not much the wiser. Pollard disavows the intention of writing a comprehensive narrative, and for this relief much thanks say I, as the book is too long already, although there are on the other hand some aspects that required fuller treatment. It is partly a picture of `Blunkett the man', partly a documentary of his political life. As the former it is garrulous and in places downright embarrassing; as the latter I found it a useful reminder but superficial too.
One insight, right at the start, is perceptive - when asked questions Blunkett gives genuine answers. Somehow he escaped the Curse of New Labour, under which Stepford MP's began all replies with `Tony has made it absolutely clear that...', following this ritual utterance as often as not with statements that must have been gobbledegook to themselves let alone to the rest of us. Another piece of historiography that I was glad of was the account near the end of the departure from the government of the Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine, the announcement of which was highly laconic. Blunkett was then Home Secretary, it was known that he and Derry Irvine had clashed but there is nothing unusual about conflict between Home Secretaries and Lords Chancellor. Pollard's version may or may not be the whole story but it is coherent and convincing so far as it goes.
Otherwise I have too much impression of a pot-boiler, albeit quite a good one. The proportion of the text that consists of direct quotation is suspiciously high, and a good deal of the author's own phraseology is also reported speech. The book takes a while to get going properly. Some of the tributes to Blunkett for an astounding work-rate, a phenomenal memory etc are of the vague and conventional kind that we might read about anybody and that might mean anything or nothing. If one of the author's objectives had not been volume he could usefully have excised a good number of the anecdotes too. I like doggy stories as well as the next man, but some of these are cringe-making, particularly the one about the Dog That Did Not Die and a really gratuitous story about a vet who took his own life. Can there be, in all the wide world, a political theme of less fascination than English local government? I found Blunkett's experiments with public transport policy almost interesting until my incipient curiosity was quenched and annihilated by some tedious detail concerning long-forgotten nonentities. The aspect that is really significant is actually here - the development of Blunkett's political outlook, but I'm afraid that once again I'm inclined to be fault-finding.
The book certainly improves as it progresses, and incidentally the blindness theme drops practically below the horizon. What leaves me dissatisfied is the kind of comment and analysis we're offered. It is always reasonable and always intelligent, but it is too casual. The author is clearly sympathetic to his subject, and he is rationally so and no kind of hagiographer. Well and good. What I found inadequate was a propensity to cite viewpoints in a `some said this and some others said that' way with either no distinctive `take' on the issue by the author or with some rather facile comment when I might have wanted evaluation of alternatives.
The tabloid issue that has interrupted Blunkett's career is of course his lengthy affair with Mrs Kimberley Quinn nee Fortier. No explanation is offered as to why she turned on him. He had wanted their relationship openly acknowledged, she had been reluctant and only went public once it was over. I feel about Pollard's treatment of this episode much as I feel about the book in other ways - either give the matter serious treatment or talk less about it in the first place.
The style of writing is fluent if mainly unremarkable, but I spotted three really horrific oversights in the proof-reading. Of his interest in one young woman in his youth we are told `if he failed to ask her out he would never see her again.' Elsewhere `deafness' has been substituted for `blindness', and Oliver Tambo was apparently president of `The American National Congress'. The story is by its nature incomplete, and the book stops abruptly instead of coming to any conclusion. I suppose events have made it relevant. Otherwise I would have said that this was not the time for such a biography, and that the subject deserves a more thorough offering than this.