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Another bad day for Blunkett as Prescott ticks him off.

Byline: By JON SMITH

Home Secretary David Blunkett yesterday publicly accepted he had been 'arrogant' to make scathing comments about Cabinet colleagues, as No 10 moved to distance itself from his remarks. In the first sign that Prime Minister Tony Blair might be losing patience with the Home Secretary, the premier's official spokesman said Mr Blunkett's remarks were 'unfortunate' and had been made on a 'bad day'.

Downing Street's move came after Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott voiced fellow ministers' anger at Mr Blunkett.

The Home Secretary has already apologised to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Education Secretary Charles Clarke and Mr Prescott, after Mr Blunkett's criticisms became public in a biography of him released to news organisations.

Yesterday, Mr Prescott became the first senior minister openly to criticise Mr Blunkett, blaming 'an element of personal arrogance' for the comments, with which he 'fundamentally disagreed'.

Later, a contrite Mr Blunkett made no effort to challenge Mr Prescott's assessment.

A spokesman for the Home Secretary said, 'This is perfectly fair comment, which David entirely accepts.'

In the biography, by Stephen Pollard, Mr Blunkett brands a range of his Cabinet colleagues 'soft', 'weak' and prone to 'panic'.

Among his revelations, in interviews conducted before his relationship with married former lover Kimberly Quinn became public, were comments suggesting Mr Prescott was grumpy and was excessively sensitive about his 'two Jags' nickname.

He also accused his predecessor Mr Straw of leaving the Home Office in a mess and Chancellor Gordon Brown of being intolerant of other ministers expressing disagreement.

Mr Prescott said, 'I fundamentally disagree with his judgments on his Cabinet colleagues, but to be fair to David, he has apologised publicly and personally to his colleagues and was honest enough to confess to a certain amount of arrogance in his conclusions.

'So the whole issue of judgment on Cabinet colleagues, which the press have seized upon, has come about because of an element of personal arrogance and a very large amount of personal financial gain and book sales for the author.'

Asked if he wanted Mr Blunkett to remain in his post, Mr Prescott replied, 'That's not a matter for me, but I'm sure that will happen.'

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said Mr Blunkett had 'explained the circumstances of his comments and has apologised to his Cabinet colleagues. That's it'.

The spokesman went on, 'David Blunkett has explained the circumstances in which he made his comments. We all from time to time have bad days and he has apologised.

'The important thing is what David Blunkett is doing as Home Secretary in terms of achieving the changes that the country wants in terms of law and order - and that, in the end, is what David Blunkett will be judged on by the electorate as much as anything else.'

Mr Blair's spokesman said later, 'If you had a bad day and made unfortunate comments, you should recognise that fact. What the Prime Minister agrees with is if you make unfortunate comments, you should apologise for them and he has done that.'

The fallout from the end of Mr Blunkett's affair has left the Home Secretary fighting for his political future. On the personal front, he is trying to prove he is the father of Mrs Quinn's young son and the child she is expecting.

Mr Blunkett is also facing a series of claims that he misused his ministerial position during their relationship. The most serious allegation is that he fast-tracked a visa application for Mrs Quinn's nanny, Leoncia Casalme.

Former civil servant Sir Alan Budd is investigating the claim, but nobody in Whitehall will say when he is expected to report.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said, 'David is an extraordinary individual who to have got to where he is as one of the most powerful Cabinet ministers in the country with the handicap of blindness puts him in a particular special category.': Blunkett's slant on his colleagues, by biographer Stephen Pollard:The Prime Minister had been 'dog tired' and fighting 'for his political life' earlier this year but said he would serve another three years in No 10; Mr Blair does not like to be 'stood up to' but tolerates 'more from Gordon Brown than he ought';

The Chancellor 'only respects people who stand up to him' and 'threw his weight around';

Challenging Mr Brown while at the Home Office would mean being 'wiped clean'. 'I'm not here for the next job. I'm here to deliver in the job I've got. It's the only way you can stay content inside your head; that's why Gordon isn't';

Despite this he would like to be Chancellor of the Exchequer and Alan Milburn, Cabinet election supremo, is most likely to replace him at the Home Office;

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's Two Jags nickname 'really gets to him';

Mr Prescott tried to destabilise Mr Blair when he spoke of 'plates shifting';

Ex-Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is snobbish and 'wouldn't have social contact... but as soon as he lost the job he wanted to know me again';

Education Secretary Charles Clarke has 'gone soft' and taken his foot off the accelerator of reform. Mr Clarke 'has not developed as expected';

Jack Straw had left the Home Office in a 'giant mess' and developed previously informed principled objections to ID cards on leaving the job. Mr Straw switched allegiance from Mr Blair to the Chancellor;

Tory leader Michael Howard did a better job at the Home Office than the current Foreign Secretary;

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell is 'weak', Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett a timeserver and Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt 'not a strategic thinker'.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 14, 2004
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