- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

LONDON — A sex scandal reminiscent of political romps that have embarrassed prominent Britons over the years now threatens the career of one of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s top ministers as the nation heads toward a spring election.

David Blunkett, who as home secretary — Britain’s interior minister — faces accusations regarding his relationship with a former mistress, a married American magazine publisher.

A key charge is that Mr. Blunkett used the power of his position to “fast-track” a permanent British visa for ex-lover Kimberly Fortier Quinn’s baby sitter. Another is that he used taxpayers’ money to buy a train ticket for California-born Mrs. Quinn.

But at the heart of the home secretary’s predicament is his insistence that he is the father of Mrs. Quinn’s 2-year-old son and the baby she is expecting. He is demanding DNA tests to prove it.

The issue has triggered a feud between Mr. Blunkett and the Quinns, with charges and countercharges dominating newspaper headlines across the land. The Daily Mail reported that the home secretary was ready to sacrifice his $247,000-a-year Cabinet post rather than give up his demand for access to the children.

Mr. Blair is beginning his campaign for an election, expected to be held in May, that he hopes will keep him in office at No. 10 Downing St. for a third term. The Blunkett imbroglio is certain to become a campaign issue.

How much of an impact it will have on the voting public remains to be seen. Sex shenanigans have dogged the British political scene for more than a century, with varying effect.

In perhaps the most infamous case, such a scandal destroyed one man’s hope of becoming prime minister 41 years ago. John Profumo was secretary of state for war and seemingly headed for Downing Street when it was discovered that he was involved with call girl Christine Keeler, who also was having an affair with a Soviet military attache.

It wasn’t his sexual peccadilloes, or even the Soviet link, that buried Mr. Profumo’s political career: He made the mistake of lying to Parliament.

In the 1980s, a sex scandal again rocked British politics. Cecil Parkinson, the acknowledged mastermind behind the campaign that made Margaret Thatcher the nation’s first female prime minister, resigned as secretary of state for trade and industry in the wake of his extramarital affair with his former secretary, Sara Keays.

It was under Conservative Prime Minister John Major, who in the 1990s launched a “back-to-basics” campaign for morality in public life, that ministerial sex scandals came to light in a big way.

First came National Heritage Secretary David Mellor, whom Mr. Major fired after his extramarital affair with an unemployed actress, Antonia de Sancha, was exposed.

In 1994, Tim Yeo quit as environment minister after he fathered an illegitimate child by a councilor, Julia Stent.

Parliamentary Private Secretary David Ashby resigned after admitting that he shared a hotel bed with another man.

These and at least five other sex scandals were major factors in voters’ dumping Mr. Major in the 1997 election.

But his successor, Tony Blair, has had his own problems — first with his secretary for Wales, Ron Davies. He resigned after what he told the prime minister was a “lapse of judgment” with a strange man in a London park frequented by homosexuals.

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