In the latest blow to British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government, Home Secretary David Blunkett agreed Monday to an independent investigation into allegations that he abused his official position during a three-year secret love affair with a married magazine publisher.
Blunkett, 57, known in Britain for his blunt speech, tough line on terrorism, and overcoming blindness to become a leading Labor politician, has admitted a relationship with Kimberly Quinn, the twice-wed, 44-year-old publisher of the Spectator magazine, originally from Los Angeles and educated at Vassar and Oxford.
With the home secretary denying accusations that he tried to arrange a visa for his lover’s nanny, Blair expressed confidence Monday that Blunkett, who is divorced, had done nothing wrong in his public life. Politicians’ private lives, Blair added, were their own matters.
“I have no doubt that he will be exonerated,” the prime minister said. “He has been, is, will continue to be, a first-class home secretary.”
The scandal comes as Blair’s government, which faces reelection next year, is suffering from a public perception that it has been less than honest with voters. The Labor Party took office in 1997 promising to reverse what it called “sleaze” in prior Conservative governments.
According to British media reports, Quinn -- until recently known as Kimberly Fortier from her first marriage to investment banker Michael Fortier -- began her affair with Blunkett in 2001, shortly after marrying Stephen Quinn, the wealthy managing director of Britain’s Vogue magazine who is 17 years her senior.
Kimberly Quinn was attracted by the tall, bearded Blunkett’s wit and aura of power, the Sunday Telegraph quoted friends as saying. It said that the brunet Quinn jokingly told the minister, who has been blind since birth and brings his seeing-eye dog with him to Parliament, that she was blond.
Blunkett, whose marriage ended in 1990 after his three sons were grown, grew attached to Quinn, traveled abroad with her at least once and met her often in London and in the countryside, believing that she would leave her husband eventually, the newspaper said.
Accounts of the affair began to surface in the British tabloids in August. Around that time, the Telegraph said, Quinn sought to break off the affair. She had become upset by Blunkett’s pursuit of paternity tests to prove that he, not Stephen Quinn, had fathered her 2-year-old son, William, and possibly the child with whom she is now seven months pregnant.
That dispute apparently prompted unnamed friends of Kimberly Quinn to go to the press, portraying Blunkett as desperate to cling to her and accusing the home secretary of bending official rules during the relationship.
In addition to allegedly seeking the visa for Quinn’s Filipina nanny, Blunkett is accused of giving Quinn rides in his government-chauffeured limo to see him in the Derbyshire countryside and letting her use free first-class rail coupons given to government ministers.
The allegations were splashed across the front page of British papers Sunday and Monday.
“Blunkett’s ex-lover wreaks her revenge,” was the headline in the Sunday Times. “I will fight Blunkett to the last, husband vows in paternity wrangle,” was the Evening Standard’s angle Monday.
The reports have sullied the image of a politician who had been seen as squeaky-clean, if somewhat austere and hard-charging.
As a child, Blunkett was sent to a boarding school for the blind, and his father died in an industrial accident. He later earned a place at Sheffield University, and at age 22 was elected the youngest member of the Sheffield City Council.
Denying any misuse of his office, Blunkett accused Quinn of seeking to undermine him.
“I am saddened someone I cared so deeply for should seek, quite erroneously, to damage my public position,” he told the Sunday Telegraph. “This cannot be in the interests of any of us. I shall continue to keep my private life private and separate from my public duties.”
But the scandal showed no signs of going away.
According to the published reports, Blunkett and Quinn have private DNA tests showing that William was fathered by Blunkett, and the home secretary wants legally binding tests of William and her unborn child so that he can obtain formal paternal rights.
Stephen Quinn, meanwhile, has promised to fight for his family. “I love my wife and I love William more than I can say,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.
Janet Stobart of The Times’ London Bureau contributed to this report.