In this space last Friday, under the heading Blunkett At Bay, reference was made to David Blunkett's “irritable” performance in the House of Commons on the previous day, to his lack of judgement in accusing a respected journalist of views on immigration “bordering on fascism”, and to his open criticism of some of his own senior civil servants in the Home Office. Yesterday came the news that Mr Blunkett had undergone major surgery at short-notice for a long-standing problem relating to his oesophagus and stomach and that he would be out of action until after Christmas.

David Blunkett asks for no quarter in the rough and tumble of politics. His blindness is never a factor in his performance and he would be the first to complain if it were ever suggested that any allowance should be made for it. Nonetheless, it is quite possible that his uncharacteristically tetchy and ill-tempered attitude in the Commons last week was in part the result of the medical condition that put him in hospital at the weekend. The job of Home Secretary is one of the most testing in the British government. Even in normal times all manner of troubling human and legal problems land on his desk and the burden has been immensely increased by the national security responsibilities following 9/11. We wish David Blunkett well.