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This review is for the hardback book "The Blunkett Tapes - My Life in the Bear Pit", an auto-biography by the former Labour politician and Home Secretary, David Blunkett.
David Blunkett is a quite remarkable politician as not only did he rise to the top levels of Government and senior positions in the Labour Party, he did so whilst being blind. It is difficult to get promoted in any career whilst being blind, but in politics, with the vast amount of reading, personal interaction with other individuals, it makes it even more remarkable. Hence I was hoping this his auto-biography would provide an interesting insight into his political life.
In many ways, I found this book interesting, inevitably so as I read through all 896 pages, one of the longest political auto-biographies I can recall reading. However, I finished the book considerably less impressed at David Blunkett than when I started it, as the book was, in my view, self-serving nonsense.
There are literally tens and tens of examples through the book when Blunkett whinges on constantly about how poor his advisers and civil servants were. He complains that he is given the wrong names of individuals, that immigration figures are entirely incorrect, that documentation between Ministers is lost, that documentation from organisations is lost or delayed within government departments, and so on. In only one place however he reverses all this and praises his hard working team who did their very best.
I can't recall reading a book, whether it be by John Major, Margaret Thatcher, Alistair Campbell, and so on, who so constantly blames other people. It appears never to have occurred to Blunkett that he ran the department, and if immigration figures weren't being produced properly, it was ultimately for him to do something about it. It is horrifying to see what a state the Home Office was in when Blunkett himself declares it useless and out of control.
I have to also admit to being irritated by his complaining that he never has enough holidays, time away and has to work so hard. He did however manage to find time to write a book, be in a marriage with children and have a three year long affair with another married woman. His book is littered with details of the holidays he had, and it really does seem he was entirely out of control of running his departments.
I did look at what others had written about this book, and the majority of opinion did seem to be that it was self-pitying and looks very ghost written and put together from the tapes that Blunkett himself kept. The book is quite easy to locate as large quantities were left unsold, and really the book is likely to be of interest to those fascinated by politics.
In fairness to David Blunkett however, and it isn't necessarily right to dwell on an individual's disability, but he did achieve an amazing amount given that limitation. He didn't let it obstruct his life, and he continued to find ways around it. There are times in the book where it is possible to find genuine sorrow for him, such as when a builder left a loft hatch open, and Blunkett walked straight into it, causing himself considerable pain. Such minor incidents must have made his entire life all that much more frustrating.
From a political point of view, the book constantly says why Blunkett was right and other politicians were wrong, and I do sense some considerable rewriting of history. He had frequent run ins with John Prescott and Gordon Brown, but Blunkett does seem to have genuine affection and admiration for the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. The book covers Blunkett in the three various Cabinet positions he held, although he had to resign from two of them. These were Secretary of State for Education and Employment (a position held only by himself and the Conservative Gillian Shepherd as the department was merged with others), Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
The book does cover Blunkett's childhood, although is mostly focused on his political career once he joined the Cabinet in 1997, and this to me was the most interesting and genuine part of the book. It is possible that too much of this book was ghost written, but the initial part does seem genuine, and seems to me likely to have been written by David Blunkett himself.
The book is available from Amazon for the retail price of 25 pounds including free delivery. Second hand copies are available from sites such as eBay and Amazon for around four to five pounds including postage.
Overall, this is an interesting book for those that love politics and recent history. However, it is not a heavyweight tome, it is a very long book, but doesn't really have the political weight of books of other senior political figures. If you're interested in the subject matter, then this is a long read which you might enjoy, but if you're not, it's not likely to provide much interesting evening reading.