In the news

July 21, 2000

It has been a roller-coaster couple of weeks for education secretary David Blunkett. He lost a High Court judgment on his plans to introduce performance-related pay for teachers and he was criticised for failing to declare rent on his Wimbledon flat. Then, after being used as a key government spokesman in the run-up to the comprehensive spending review announcement, he was awarded a large budget increase for his department in that review.

But Mr Blunkett is a man known for his resilience, having had to cope with blindness and poverty from childhood. He was four when he was sent to a boarding school for the blind and 12 when his father was killed in an accident at work.

He seemed destined for a career as a piano tuner, but fought to sit O and A levels and studied at night school and on day release to gain a place at Sheffield University to study politics and education.

His first job was as a clerk-typist with the East Midlands Gas Board, where he became a shop steward. In 1970, aged 22, he was elected to Sheffield City Council, becoming leader ten years later. He was a tutor in industrial relations at Barnsley College of Technology from 1974 until being elected MP for Sheffield, Brightside in 1987.

Mr Blunkett is regarded by some as "the last vestige of socialism in the cabinet" and by Tony Blair as "a star performer", and he has proved an adept - and witty - politician.

But he has hinted that his time in education may be coming to an end. He caused consternation in February when he repeated his personal opposition to top-up fees, but said: "I won't be secretary of state forever." More recently he revealed that by the next election he was ready to move.

There are rumours that he has ambitions to become home secretary and recent reports have even suggested that he could become prime minister.

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