David Blunkett and his guide dogs

David Blunkett has been blind since birth. He entered politics after his father, Arthur Blunkett – a gas foreman – suffered a fatal accident at work; he was past retirement age and his empoyer refused to provide his dependants with a pension.

Mr. Blunkett became Sheffield's youngest councillor in 1969, at the age of 22. After seven years as Leader of Sheffield City Council (1980-7), he served for 28 years as an MP. He spent a total of eight years in Tony Blair's cabinet: four as Education Secretary (1997-2001), three and a half as Home Secretary (2001–4), and six months as Work and Pensions Secretary (2005).

His first guide dog, Ruby, retired in 1978. She was followed by Ted, a.k.a. Teddy (1978–87), Offa (1987–94), Lucy (1994–2002), Sadie (2002–2011) and Cosby (from 2011).

Ruby was the first dog to be allowed inside the House of Commons, when she and Mr. Blunkett visited in 1971. Sixteen years later, Ted became the first guide dog to grace the floor of the Commons after his owner was elected as MP for Sheffield Brightside.

Teddy, according to Mr. Blunkett, was "a gentle giant of a dog who used to snore under the table during BBC1's Question Time, back in the days when Robin Day was chairman." He also made his presence known by lapping water.

Mr. Blunkett also told how Teddy "brought up his breakfast" during Nigel Lawson's budget speech in 1988. "The Honorable member for Bolsover" (Denis Skinner) asked who was going to clear up the mess – leading inevitably to quips about whether he meant Teddy's breakfast or the UK economy.

If Ted was a memorable character, his successor – Offa – seems to have been the most accident–prone of them all. In a relatively short career, he was sick while Labour's Shadow Environment Secretary Bryan Gould outlined his party's proposals for an alternative to the Poll Tax; suffered a violent allergic reaction when Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn showered him with snuff at the entrance to the Chamber; and was struck by a van after bolting into the road to escape fireworks near his master's home.

It was Lucy that accompanied Mr. Blunkett through the culmination of his rise to high office, and she was not immune to accidents in the House of Commons. In 1999, when David Willetts (Conservative, Havant) was on his feet, criticising Mr. Blunkett's record as Home Secretary, Lucy was violently sick. This time, as Hansard reports, it was Mr Don Foster (Conservative, Bath) who quipped"I [...] think it rather appropriate that, while the hon. Gentleman was speaking, the Secretary of State's dog was sick." Lucy was rebuked by the Speaker.

Saint Lucy is the patron saint of the blind and partially sighted, the story being that her eyes (like those of many Christian martyrs) were gouged out prior to her execution. I'm not sure whether this was the inspiration behind the name of Mr. Blunkett's arguably most famous dog, or not.

Mr. Blunkett retired from parliamentary duty in 2015. He joked about how he and Cosby were "bow–wowing out".

© Haydn Thompson 2017