David Walker – The corridors of power …

Home secretary David Blunkett’s autobiography On a clear day shows him to be strait-laced, in a pro-family, traditional morality way and adaptable – he had to be to accomplish what he has, without the faculty of sight.

Since June, he has turned this apparent contradiction to his political advantage. A step to the left and a step to the right. Though he tells friends he is oppressed by the problems and legalism that confront him at the Home Office, they respond – rightly – that he has been sure-footed.

In the same week he socks it to judges for their disregard for public safety (cheers from the right) while moving to decriminalise the possession of cannabis (cheers from the left).

Beleaguered transport secretary Stephen Byers knows it’s that kind of dance that secures a political reputation. But he is not what you would call a sinuous stepper-out. When he made the decision to put Railtrack into administration he was conscious of how it would play on the left.

The word ‘nationalisation’ was uttered, to cheers from Labour MPs.

Since then the Treasury has been on his case, fearful of any fallout from the Railtrack debacle for the private finance initiative. Its permanent secretary Andrew Turnbull went on pilgrimage around the City denying any connection between the two. Obedient as always, Mr Byers rowed back, taking a softer line on shareholders’ rights. But still insists the trade unions and passengers have a statutory role in son-of-Railtrack, which the left will like. Is Mr Byers’ two-step likely to convince anyone? His problem is not lack of background, rather that he has not mastered the art of speaking in code, of speaking like a loyal Blairite but giving his utterances a personal flavour. Sometimes he seems afraid to speak at all.

The real problem with his discredited spinner Jo Moore, say Byers’ pals, is not that he kept her on but that he did not grandstand in the media, making a virtue of his strength and loyalty.

– David Walker writes for The Guardian.

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