With Ruth Kelly quitting, Limavady has lost its one and only link with the British Cabinet, though she left NI I think at the age of 3 and never said a significant world about it in public, though once I tried unsuccessfully to draw her out on 11 plus selection at a meeting in Downing St.. Strangely enough the only other NI – born cabinet minister the Conservative bruiser Brian Mawhinney also served as Transport Secretary. After news of her departure was leaked last night in the present febrile atmosphere, Downing St moved fast to give the age of her four young children as the reason and deny any political motive, a case Gordon Brown repeated at length in interviews this morning. This morning in her speech to the Labour conference she admitted they ” had not agreed on everything” without further explanation, but probably alluding to her issues of conscience as a devout Catholic. Brown also swept aside the rumour she had been among four cabinet ministers thinking about quitting to force his own resignation. Ruth though academically brilliant never shook off the impression that she had been over promoted in her meteoric rise to the cabinet as Education Secretary at 36, then moving rapidly to Communities (English local government) Secretary and finally Transport Secretary. There were plenty of reasons why she might quit. She was regarded as a prime candidate for the chop in the impending reshfuffle. As a devout Catholic controversially linked to Opus Dei she faces a dilemma at the final whipped vote on the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill in a month or so, after being allowed a free vote with other Labour Catholics on key clauses earlier. As a Cabinet minister it would have been virtually impossible for her to defy the whip. It remains to be seen what other Catholics, our old friends Paul Murphy and Des Browne as well as the youthful Andy Burnham will now do. I guess another discreet abstention is prospect though Ruth may have disdained another moral fudge. In any case, she faces annihilation in her constituency of Bolton West , majority 2000, in the general election. Ruth Kelly was in a sense iconic, young mum, brilliant etc. and undoubtedly principled but sadly it must be said that as a politician she rose almost without trace and will depart similarly.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London