The life of David Blunkett, Britain's home secretary, reads like a Hollywood film script. Born blind and poor in the industrial city of Sheffield, Blunkett's teachers suggested a career as a piano tuner. Instead, he has become one of the Labour Party's most popular politicians. A favorite of Prime Minister Tony Blair, he oversees some of Britain's most pressing issues--from immigration policy to the fight against crime.
Blunkett, 55, has earned a reputation as a shrewd politician willing to take on tough issues. When he became Home Secretary a year ago, illegal immigration was at an all-time high in Britain, and the public was clamoring for a crackdown. Blunkett moved quickly to close loopholes in the country's liberal refugee policy, stiffened the penalty for trafficking in humans, and pushed through a law requiring immigrants to swear allegiance to the British monarch and learn English. He took an equally strong line after September 11, introducing legislation allowing the government to detain foreigners suspected of terrorist links indefinitely.
Blunkett began his political career when he was just 22. He was elected as a local Labour councillor in his hometown, then referred to as the People's Republic of Sheffield. He became a member of Parliament in 1987 and was named education secretary when Labour came to power a decade later. A workaholic, Blunkett stays up until the wee hours poring over braille copies of government reports, with Lucy, his black labrador guide dog, at his side. Divorced, with three grown sons, he's lately been working on his most ambitious project yet: an overhaul of Britain's criminal-justice laws. It may be tough to pull off, but Blunkett has never met a challenge he wasn't eager to tackle.