David Blunkett Interview

63 year-old David Blunkett, former cabinet minister and current Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, is vice president of the Alzheimer’s Society. Alzheimer’s Society is the nominated charity for the BUPA Great Run Series (www.alzheimers.org.uk/greatrun). The Great Yorkshire Run is 5th September, entries remain open.
David BlunkettWhat is the first charity you can remember supporting?

When I was 16, I visited an old lady called Mrs Plum every week for two years. When I left the area, I intended to say that I hoped I’d been some help. Before I could, she said she hoped she’d been some help to me. I realised it was a two way street.


Which cause do you feel most passionately about?

Generically, I think we need to build the confidence, leadership skills and wherewithal for people to be self-determining and to shape the world around them. In the charitable sector, it’s Alzheimer’s. It has a huge impact. Someone is still alive, but they’ve effectively left the field. They are no longer the person who a wife or husband has married.
Runners raise funds for Alzheimer’s. How have charity and exercise become so linked?

It’s a cry to others without having to beg. It’s saying that I’m prepared to, literally in this case, go the extra mile if you’re prepared to put up the money. That feels easier than saying to people I’m really in favour of this cause and I’m coming round with this hat.
How has being born blind affected your attitude to charity?

Initially, it made me antagonistic. In those days you could physically hear charity collectors rattling tins. I didn’t want their charity, and I used to worry about how charities might negatively affect the person they were intended to help. Now, I think that we need to avoid giving the giver moral superiority by engaging the receiver in the process of shaping charitable policy. For the welfare state, for example, we need programs that prevent people from being passive recipients.
Your beliefs seem to tally with Cameron’s Big Society?

I would be in favour of Big Society if we weren’t destroying public services. I was brought up on a council estate where people helped each other with a sense of common purpose. Post war, we lost that reciprocity and mutuality in left of centre politics.
Should we put our own country’s citizens first?

No. I think there’s a seamless moral, ethical and personal issue here, not just the practical fact that what we do abroad has a long-term effect on ourselves, or even that a country that thrives becomes an economic trading partner.
Does charity cover areas that government should have covered?

Charity has filled gaps where public service has been unable to deliver, but I don’t take the view that government has to do everything. I think that in the current frenzy of cuts, we need a better debate about the role of government, and where charities and other third sector bodies have a role.
Copyright The Financial Times Ltd