LONDON -- Britain's homeland security chief, one of the most powerful members of Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, is embroiled in a political sex scandal with his former lover that threatens to torpedo his career.
Home Secretary David Blunkett, 57, is struggling against allegations in newspaper reports that he fast-tracked a visa application for his married lover's nanny and committed other abuses of office. What makes the allegations particularly striking is that they seem to have originated with the former lover, American-born magazine publisher Kimberly Quinn, 44, in retaliation for Blunkett's effort to establish that he is the father of her 2-year-old son and unborn child.
The scandal involves one of the most popular and outspoken politicians in Britain, a man of blue-collar roots and strong law-and-order convictions who happens to be blind; the publisher of the Spectator, a conservative weekly, who is an American with a degree from Vassar and a reputation for flirtatiousness; and her husband, Stephen Quinn, 60, publisher of the British edition of Vogue magazine, who until recently, according to newspaper accounts, was unaware that the children might not be his.
The controversy began in August, known here as the silly season for political coverage because most of the country is on vacation. The tabloid News of the World disclosed that Blunkett, who is divorced, was in love with an unnamed married woman with whom he had conducted a three-year affair. The next day the Sun tabloid disclosed Quinn's name and reported that the affair had reached a crossroads. Both Blunkett and Quinn issued statements admitting nothing and demanding their privacy.
Among the chattering classes of politics and the media here, the affair was not much of a secret. Quinn was frequently seen on Blunkett's arm at parties and receptions. She even sat next to him at the state banquet for President Bush at Buckingham Palace last November.
Things quieted down until 12 days ago, when the News of the World reported that Blunkett had sent a formal letter to Quinn's lawyers demanding the right to prove he is the father of her children. The Daily Mail said that he had been devastated when Quinn broke off their affair in the summer to save her marriage and that he feared he would not be allowed to see the children unless he legally established paternity.
At first the Quinns denied Blunkett's paternity. But he was reported to already have taken a preliminary DNA test that indicated he is the father of 2-year-old William. Other allegations were reported, all of them attributed to ''friends" of one side or the other: that Quinn and Blunkett had begun their affair three months after her marriage to Stephen Quinn, whom she had met while previously married to American banker Michael Fortier; that Stephen Quinn had a vasectomy reversal in an attempt to have children with Kimberly; and that Blunkett had obsessively phoned Kimberly Quinn after she ended the affair.
The Quinns seem to have struck back last weekend with a front-page report in the Sunday Telegraph, owned by the same company as the Spectator. The newspaper quoted from an e-mail written by Kimberly Quinn that accused Blunkett of personally fast-tracking her Filipino nanny's visa application. The Telegraph added other allegations: that Blunkett gave Quinn two first-class railway tickets that were supposed to be available only to the spouses and children of Parliament members; that he had her driven in his official car for weekend visits to his country cottage; and that two senior civil servants from the Home Office met with her at her lawyer's office and tried to get her to sign a public statement saying her marriage to Stephen Quinn was over.
Blunkett emerged from his official silence to insist he had done nothing wrong and call for an official investigation.
''I've spent 34 years in politics . . . building people's trust," he told reporters. ''I don't intend to throw it away."
He won the backing of his boss, Blair, who said Monday, ''Politicians are entitled to private lives, the same as anyone else."
Meanwhile, Stephen Quinn said he is standing by his wife, who is seven months pregnant and has been hospitalized because of stress and exhaustion.