Britain's political establishment has never been short of political scandal. While the latest tale to grip London's political and media circles lacks the titillating, sometimes bizarre, features of other public figures brought low by their misdemeanours, the current allegations against David Blunkett, UK interior minister, prove the enduring relevance of politician's private lives in British public life.

Mr Blunkett faces allegations that he helped to speed up a visa application on behalf of a former lover. Tony Blair, prime minister, spent much of his monthly press conference on Monday defending his senior cabinet colleague, saying that he had ?absolutely every confidence? in Mr Blunkett.

He denied that the story made a mockery of Labour's claims in 1997 that it would free public office of the ?sleaze? that had plagued the previous Conservative administration and delighted the country's notoriously savage popular press.

In much of continental Europe, the private lives of politicians often go largely unreported. But the British press has traditionally taken a more intrusive approach, claiming that the ?public interest? is at stake.

Tory efforts to promote higher moral standards were compromised in the 1990s with incidents such as the conservative parliamentarian who died in an apparent act of auto-asphyxiation while skimpily dressed in ladies' clothing. But Labour's better intentions have been dented by its own scandals, including the revelation that Peter Mandelson, the European Union's trade commissioner, had given false information to his mortgage provider.

Mr Blair said on Monday he had ?no doubt at all? that Mr Blunkett would be cleared by an independent inquiry into the interior minister's involvement in the visa application for a Filipina nanny employed by Kimberley Quinn, publisher of The Spectator, a conservative weekly.

The magazine, owned by the Barclay brothers who recently bought The Spectator along with the Telegraph newspapers from Conrad Black, the Canadian-born tycoon, has recently emerged as the source of much fodder for the prurient. Earlier this month its editor Boris Johnson, also a Tory MP, was sacked as opposition arts spokesman for failing to tell party managers the truth about his love affair with a Spectator columnist.

The affair of another Spectator columnist with the magazine's receptionist has also generated copious copy much of it written by the columnist's wife. Mr Blunkett proposed the inquiry after a Sunday newspaper published details of an e-mail purportedly written by Mrs Quinn that accused the interior minister of being ?paranoid? and of wanting to ?nail me?. Mrs Quinn, an American, began her affair with Mr Blunkett less than three months into her marriage with the publisher of the British edition of Vogue magazine.

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