DAVID Blunkett got a vote of sympathy from the general public in an opinion poll published yesterday but he may lack support where it matters most - among his Cabinet colleagues. Six, including the prime minister, have backed him in his current difficulties, three have made neutral statements but twelve have remained silent.

In view of revelations yesterday that he had criticised several colleagues in a conversation with Stephen Pollard, the author of a new biography, it is surprising that as many as six have been prepared to speak up for him. Mr Blunkett has not denied that he made the comments attributed to him in Pollard's book but by way of mitigation a close aide has explained that the conversation took place over lunch on ”a bad day when Mother Teresa would have got both barrels”. Among his cabinet colleagues who got at least one barrel were Gordon Brown for ”throwing his weight around”, Charles Clarke, who succeeded him at the Ministry of Education, for ”taking his foot off the accelerator” and Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, for supposedly allowing supermarkets to kill off local chemists by giving them the right to sell medicines and prescription drugs. Not even the Prime Minister escaped; Mr Blunkett told his biographer that Tony Blair tolerated ”more of Gordon Brown than he ought”. Whitehall sources were saying yesterday that Mr Blunkett had been on the telephone to apologise to those he had criticised. His comments were made one year ago but that will hardly console those he singled out. Interestingly enough, it was just about a year ago that Mr Blunkett's name was being mentioned as a possible compromise candidate for prime minister. But no more.


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