2004 Person of the Year (Part 3)
The life of the British Home Secretary is a hard one. As well as overseeing the police, immigration, domestic security, the criminal justice system and a whole host of other things, you’ve got to use your influence to fast-track your former secret lover’s nanny’s visa and insult much of the rest of the government within the pages of a biography. Or, at least, that’s what the Home Secretary does when he’s the third of our five people of the year, “Stasi Dave” Blunkett.
Earlier this year, Dave was just another politician, quietly overseeing changes to the criminal justice system that had human rights campaigners up in arms and Tony Blair grinning like an iron-boot tiger. Plans for his centrally-linked, biometrically tagged ID card were going full steam ahead, and he claimed the technology was flawless, despite having to also implement a 10 year prison sentence for anyone who forged one. Within ten years, he said, every British citizen would be carrying around a card linking them to a computer system that would allow the government to see at a glance virtually every facet of their life.
Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, an initiative he spearheaded, were going swimmingly: local councils could now give criminal penalties to people for making excessive noise or fly-posting (for example) without having to go through all the trouble of a criminal proceeding and proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
His Civil Contingencies Bill, a piece of legislation that made America’s PATRIOT Act look like the Bill of Rights, was incorporated into law with very little fuss or notice from the public. The government could now, with no notice and without calling a state of emergency, gain unprecedented powers for an indefinite period, including the ability to prohibit movement, freedom of assembly or speech, or to make new laws on a whim. In the wrong hands, the law could mean the end of democracy, and there was little the public could do about it; for Dave, the future looked positively rosy.
But then disaster struck. Newspapers began running stories that Blunkett had a former lover whose nanny needed a visa for leave to remain in the United Kingdom, and that said visa had been processed 120 days faster than average. She had also been given a rail pass that was only intended for the wives of MPs. Something fishy was in the air.
A formal enquiry was launched, and in December the chairman reported that, “I believe I have been able to establish a chain of events linking Mr Blunkett to the change in the decision on [the nanny’s] application.” At the same time, quotes from his biography began to leak into Parliament; according to the Scotsman, “He also reportedly said Charles Clarke had gone soft on education, Jack Straw had left the Home Office in a ‘giant mess’ and John Prescott was obsessed with being dubbed ‘Two Jags’.”
What really elevates Blunkett to that special best-of-year territory, though, is this: in an acute attack of the hypocrite, as the Home Secretary stepped down amid a media furore, he declared his right to privacy. Meanwhile, thanks to his laws, legal procedures and rights that have been established over hundreds of years are gone overnight, and will continue to disappear.
David Blunkett: for your services to the democracy and freedom of the British people, you are truly one of the people of the year!
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