When David Blunkett entered politics as a Sheffield councillor in 1970, the Conservatives had won a not quite convincing election and Britain was about to enter a decade-long period of political uncertainty.
Now, as he winds down his Yorkshire office and considers his future, the 67-year-old leaves at a time when even he admits Labour is unlikely to have a majority and the dominance of the SNP means coalition is here for several more years at least.
In between those years, the popular politician has gone from councillor to council leader, MP to Home Secretary and, with a few bumps along the way, left the country with a new understanding of what can be achieved by a person born blind.
The end result is he now finds time for sandwiches and a telling off for former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
“I saw Tony just the other month for lunch,” he said. “I have always been able to have a straight conversation with Tony. I’m one of the few senior politicians left that still admires what he did.
“I liked him so much I can tell him off. I said to him, it would be good if he spent more time in Britain, you’re getting a terribly bad press, even though he’s given an enormous amount of money to international causes.”
Mr Blair made the headlines last month when a donation of £1,000 to each of the top 100 target Labour seats was sent back by several candidates, a decision Mr Blunkett said was “sad”.
“Those of us who have been there any amount of time know we were only in Government three times because of him,” he said.
“You can be incredibly self-satisfied and smug and pure in perpetual opposition but that does not help people one iota.”
Mr Blunkett remains friends with Mr Blair’s successor Gordon Brown, though admits the two had very different premierships.
The strength I had was my roots in Sheffield, my very close family and friends, I have been blessed with enormous strength of family, and with the people in my constituency, who can tell you what they thought and still give you a hug.
“Gordon was never happy as Prime Minister. As chancellor he came into his own, he knew what he was doing, he had a grip of his issues, he could stabilise things. I think it’s really sad that having wanted the job for so long, he felt so uneasy in doing it.”
The Conservative’s, Mr Blunkett said, got lucky on the economic recovery thanks mostly to a Bank of England decision to print money for the major banks through the Quantitate Easing scheme, a move which helped ease the economy in an unexpected way.
“The prosperity has been created not via austerity but via the Quantitative Easing and by the PPI payments scandal. £20bn has been paid out using QE. The banks used this liquidity to pay out in £2,000, £3,000, £4,000 tranches. That has been a major contributor.
“While wages were frozen or reduced, benefits cut, living standards under the cosh and people’s ability to cope was under pressure, some families, a few million, got a bung. And that has helped see them through. If a political party said they will spend £20bn giving selective families £3,000 the world would have imploded. Quite lucky for the Conservatives.”
Mr Blunkett leaves parliament at a time when even Labour’s own MPs are critical of the party’s London-centric approach while party leader Ed Miliband faces repeated attacks on his North London upper class background.
“There’s always a danger that you get sucked in down there,” Mr Blunkett said. “That is true of all of us. The strength I had was my roots in Sheffield, my very close family and friends, I have been blessed with enormous strength of family, and with the people in my constituency, who can tell you what they thought and still give you a hug.
“I think people have to remember with Ed his family spent quite a lot of time in Leeds, his dad was a lecturer at the university, they lived there. People are painted into a picture that can then be caricatured. That is what happens in politics. Blair was Bambi 18 years ago. No one five years in to a Blair government could have called him that. You get these caricatures and you have to beat them down. I’m convinced that Ed can grow into the premiership.”
Mr Blunkett’s grounding in his constituency, where he will stay after May 7, was however one of the reasons he cites for giving up on his job as an MP.
“I won’t miss my advice surgeries. When I came out of the last one two weeks ago I did a little jig. We have had every possible problem, every possible feature of people’s lives. And it has been important but it is also quite debilitating because you are taking the real rough end of people’s lives. If you care, you carry a burden. That is one reason why I am standing down. I wanted to carry on doing it while I still cared.”
For now, Mr Blukett is planning for the next step. In order not to drive his wife mad hanging round the house, he says, he will take up a political engagement role with Sheffield University’s Crick Centre.
Would he be prepared to accept a peerage were one to be offered?
“There is only people who can predict they will go to the House of Lords is failed Liberal Democrats. If you are a Lib Dem at local government level or you lose your seat in parliament you are most likely to be rewarded with a seat in the Lords. The rest of us should not count any chickens before they are hatched.”