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Why hasn't Ruth Kelly gone?

Nick Robinson | 12:04 UK time, Monday, 16 January 2006

Why hasn't she gone? Surely she can't survive? After more damaging revelations this weekend those are the questions that more and more people ask me about Ruth Kelly. Downing Street's declaration of full support is, the cynics say, surely another sign that her career's coming to a close. I still say she's staying - until and unless she is revealed to have covered up or misled people about her role in this story.

That's what the Tories hoped to prove by calling on her to correct her Commons statement last week. This morning Downing Street tried to pre-empt that by unusually pre-announcing that she will make a Commons statement on Thursday. Last week they tried to still the furore by pre-announcing that she'd survive the overdue reshuffle.

Now this story generates more heat than most - inside newsrooms as well as elsewhere - so I am taking a risk by presenting the latest charges and the case made in her defence. Here goes...

"Ruth Kelly said that 'List 99 covers those barred for life from working in schools' last Thursday but now we know that's not true"

Over the weekend, cases emerged showing that some sex offenders were on List 99 with caveats - allowing them to work with boys rather than girls, only children aged over 14 and so on. The Times today claims that figure could be as high as 700 to 1,000. The Education Department says that new regulations put in place in 2000 allow total bans but before then partial bans were permitted. What about the case revealed in the Sunday Telegraph of William Gibson "personally approved" by Ms Kelly in 2005. The answer, comes back, that the new regulations only allowed a total ban IF the offence (and not the consideration of it) came after 2000. The Speaker of the Commons will have to decide whether the minister was misleading and must return to correct the record or whether she was simply guilty of giving less than a full account and can be allowed to do so in her statement due later this week or next.

"Ruth Kelly said she'd not been involved directly in these cases but the papers report that she 'personally approved' William Gibson in Jan 2005"

I am told that she never dealt directly with any case - not even Gibson's - but that in cases of this sort letters were always sent out with the same wording - "the Secretary of State believes…"

"Ruth Kelly was warned about this but did not react until the story became public last Sunday"

I understand that the letter from Norfolk police sent to Ms Kelly in November was still being dealt with by civil servants who had drafted a reply but she had not yet seen it when The Observer broke the story last Sunday

"The government only promised to change the law when this fuss broke"

The Queen's Speech after the election promised that there would be legislation soon to implement the Bichard Inquiry's proposals to create a single vetting scheme. Consultation on the detail took place last year. Bichard himself said he was happy with the timetable. It is undoubtedly true that this row has pushed forward the time we'll get a new law from late summer to next month at least.

"Ruth Kelly's not told the full story. We have to rely on journalists to find out what's going on"

True. But this is because Kelly has been told that the lesson of past resignations is not to give partial or unchecked information out that is then revealed to be incorrect and forces you to resign - advice Beverley Hughes needed before she was forced out of her job as immigration minister.

"Forget all that, confidence in her is declining"

Maybe, but Number 10's publicly pledged to keep her so it would be a political defeat for Tony Blair to let her go. So she stays. If, however, she gets it wrong on Thursday, she could still go. Of course what matters much, much more to Tony Blair is his legacy project to reform schools. Labour's whips told him that ditching Kelly would not make it easier to win the votes of reluctant Labour rebels. That's why she's still there - for now.


  • 1.
  • At 12:50 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Spencer Turnbull wrote:


I don't think she should lose her job and I am a Tory!

I am a former Prison Officer who worked with Sex Offenders. On the Sex
Offender Treatment Progamme (SOTP) the success of rehabilitation depends
on the type of offending.

High Risk offenders are predatory and even this programme can't help them
rehabilitate it is more likely to improve their predatory skills. However,
predators do tend to stick with what they like ie. young girls or boys or
even women (rapists).

Medium Risk offenders offend within the family/friends children and some
can be predatory. SOTP can work if they are willing to face their
offending behaviour.

Low Risk offenders look at child porn/abusive porn involving women, flash
etc. SOTP can be successful with them once again depending on motivation
but help them deal with triggers so they do not progress up the offending

Essentially it is very complex and to have blanket bans without taking
into account their risk doesn't seem the right thing to do. A further
comment whilst accepting Police Caution and signing the Sex Offender
Register, is there only a caution because of lack of evidence and is it
misused with the threat of court action if a caution is not accepted? I
think alot more people may accept a caution rather than go to court and
have the stigma of public perception even if found not guilty.

in Surrey

  • 2.
  • At 12:52 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Martin Brown wrote:

Your comment on this point:

"Forget all that, confidence in her is declining"

Is valid, but misses a critical issue. It doesn't really matter whether Ruth Kelly is being supported by Tony Blair - afterall, his track record on supporting ministers in the past is not exactly exemplary.

The real issue is that the public have lost confidence in Kelly. She may not have been the person who approved this method of working, or was directly responsible for approving these people to work with children, but as the Minister for Education she is the person responsible now.

Whether Tony Blair, or the rest of the Labour party, want her or not is immaterial. Many parents, teachers and people in the education community will no longer look favourably on a minister embroiled in this type of situation.

That will make it harder for these groups to accept the proposals and recommendations of the DfE, Ruth Kelly and Tony Blair when they can't get simple, common sense, issues like this right.

  • 3.
  • At 01:05 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • David J Carpenter wrote:

You say that it would be a political defeat for Blair if she went: nonsense, that simply doesn't follow - she should go, and go now.

  • 4.
  • At 01:16 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • J Day wrote:

Frankly I believe whether she should go or stay, Tony Blair should be considering what other options he has in the Cabinet / at senior ministeral level to fill the gap. Labours track record on keeping Education Ministers is pretty poor - strikes me Ruth Kelly has tried to do her best and if she can weather this one that attempt at keeping Education on track can continue!

  • 5.
  • At 01:19 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Ricardo wrote:

A couple of points on this, Nick:

1) On the Ruth Kelly's 'personal approval': If a letter from her department goes out to an LEA or to an agency with the wording "the Secretary of State believes...", then they are misleading the recipient if the Secretary has not dealt directly with the case. Ms Kelly should either consider rewording these letters or taking responsibility for her department's staff
2) Regarding the letter from Norfolk police still being dealt with by Civil Servants: This is unacceptable - that the letter was sent in November and had not been dealt with by last week is further evidence that Ms Kelly is not fully in charge of her department.

I feel that keeping Ms Kelly in place is not more damaging to Blair that a supposed climb-down over backing her. She has to go, and she has to be replaced with someone who is more capable than recent incumbents.

  • 6.
  • At 01:21 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Konrad Bishop wrote:

Well done Nick for at least showing the other side of the story. This is such an emotive subject, which is always met with a knee-jerk reaction. Please, let's calm down, find out what happened, how different it is now to how it used to be, who is teaching our children and what the REAL risk is, rather than the sensational risks presented to us in the papers.

  • 7.
  • At 01:26 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Danvers Baillieu wrote:

This is obviously generating a great deal of heat, but the suggestion that Ministers should not have the "power" to take these sort of decisions is quite worrying. It is not a "power", it is a responsibility which should be that of an elected representative (acting on the advice of experts) not of a panel of experts who are unaccountable to the public or to parliament.

  • 8.
  • At 01:28 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Joe wrote:

Nick Robinson epitomises the BBC and Labour - do NOT criticise and peddle their spin at all times.

Bias at its best.

  • 9.
  • At 01:30 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Martin wrote:

I can understand how Downing Street can announce that something is going to happen. But how does it "pre-announce" that it is going to happen?

  • 10.
  • At 01:36 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • luke wrote:

What an informative summary. Good to see some analysis that is free from the emotion that was present in all the pieces i read over the weekend. keep it up nick!

  • 11.
  • At 01:49 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Freddy wrote:

On a broaader note, why should politicians decide whether or not someone is safe to be let loose in a school? Other than Michael Howard thought he knew best, just as he did with setting life sentences.

I'm sure no case would come to court, as anyone doing so would face a tabloid hue and cry, but just as the courts ruled politicians unfit to determine when someone should be elifible for parole, wouldn't they give a similar ruling that psychologists or similar professionals should be judging these cases?

  • 12.
  • At 02:34 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Stephen wrote:

Ricardo touches on an excellent point that this government has repeatedly ignored or forgotten - ministerial responsibility.

If someone in a department makes a mistake then the minister is responsible even if not directly involved. It was that doctrine that led Lord Carrington to resign over his department's failure to spot the build-up to the Falkland's invasion. This government, whatever else it may have done, has always refused to place the blame on a cbinet minister if there was a suitable civil servant or junior minister who could act as the fall guy.

  • 13.
  • At 02:34 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Annie wrote:

It is extremely important that everyone recognises the necessity to widen the scope from teachers. The media is referring only to schools, and teachers....It MUST be extended to include anybody at all who accesses children and young people in the course of leading or assisting activities such as youth clubs, uniformed organisations, church groups, sports clubs etc etc. Discussions in the media need to reflect this. Until children and young people are appropriately protected by legislation,(and beyond) their guardians need to be made aware that loopholes apply to such activities as described, as well as their threatened safety at school.

  • 14.
  • At 04:27 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Clive wrote:

"why should politicians decide whether or not someone is safe to be let loose in a school?" The answer is because sensitive issues are involved and politicians are immediately accountable to us.

Surely what has happened is that politicians have a duty to exercise judgement and discretion in these cases and that is what they have done - after taking suitable advice! If there is general unhappiness at people teaching in schools after committing some types of offence then the answer is a blanket ban on those people; otherwise ministers would only appear to have been doing their jobs.

  • 15.
  • At 05:27 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • James Medhurst wrote:

Mistakes have been made but they were not made by Ruth Kelly. They were made by Parliament when they voted through the law in the first place. If someone has to resign for obeying the law then the judiciary may as well be replaced by the media and British politics will become a joke.

  • 16.
  • At 05:30 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • hilton holloway wrote:

Ruth Kelly will not be going anytime soon. She has to run the education bill through parliament in March. If that goes as badly as predicted, she'll go then.

With such a crucial bill only weeks away, Blair can't replace Kelly now, only to see a new education sec. receive a massive blow if the education bill fails.

I don't care for New Labour at all, but I sort of feel sorry for Ruth Kelly as she must know she's close to being overwhelmed by this and the new eductation bill.

On a lighter note, if you want to get an idea of the sheer panic that must be engulfing the Department of Education at the moment, watch tonight's episode of The Thick of It on BBC2.

  • 17.
  • At 06:06 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Graham Brack wrote:

I don't see how Ruth Kelly could do other than she has, in general terms. Either we have a blanket rule, in which there is no need for consideration of individual cases, or we judge on a case-by-case basis, in which event commentators will rarely have access to all the facts they need to criticise fairly.

However, Ms Kelly's grasp of education in this country was shaky from day one, and the interference of Number Ten is not helping her. I know of very few teachers, headteachers or principals who believe that she has a clear view of our educational future, and on those grounds perhaps she needs a new challenge.

  • 18.
  • At 08:29 PM on 16 Jan 2006,
  • Ben Slight wrote:

Let's be perfectly honest, Ruth Kelly has the support of the Prime Minister, but, as the roars of disapproval from both within Labour and the opposition parties get louder then her future looks decidedly uncertain. One wonders how long it will be before the announcement comes telling us she has either been moved or resigned.

Whether or not this is Ruth Kelly's fault, is unfortunately not the issue here. What is, is the fact that convicted sex offenders have been able to work in our schools. Regardless of what political persuasion you are, if parents cannot trust their schools as safe havens for their children then there is a serious failure of policy here. Convicted sex offenders are a danger to children and should not be able to work in schools ever, instead of pointing fingers and trying to ride the storm, let's have some proper action for a change and sort the problem out.

  • 19.
  • At 01:17 PM on 17 Jan 2006,
  • N Griffin wrote:

Decisions about the fitness of doctors to practise are made by the General Medical Council, not the Secretary of State for Health. We have a General Teaching Council with disciplinary powers; why doesn't the Secretary of State for education hand this all over to such an independent regulatory body?

I think there is a problem with this idea of 'public confidence'. If all or most of the points that Nick Robinson has made are found to be true then the surely that is all that matters. Public confidence should be based on the actinos of the Secretary of State and whether she acted in good faith. Home 'public confidence' usually means that people have seen headlines with the words "Ruth Kelly" and "sex offenders" and assume that is grounds for calling for her resignation. I think this type of reactionary politics highlights the negative role that the media plays in these sorts of situations.

I believe she's been doomed from the moment Tony went on record as offically supporting her, and he's simply waiting for the situation to force his hand and make her position untenable (so as to avoid any potential critisim that he didn't support her initially).

Personally, I think this is just the latest example in which she's been seen (rightly or wrongly) to have dropped the ball while in office, and she has had a fairly rocky recent past as a cabinet minister (though I can appreciate the difficult situation she's in now).

I'm sure TB will find her an alternative cabinet position shortly as part of a wider reshuffle.

  • 22.
  • At 12:48 PM on 18 Jan 2006,
  • David Miller wrote:

I don't feel that the Tories have been aggressively calling for Ruth Kelly's head.

Tactically that is wise. The party has shown encouraging signs of having grown beyond the expected trigger responses in these situations over the past few weeks and surely the best way for the Tories to play this is to keep asking the questions as all the time that Ruth Kelly avoids giving answers she is worsening her position.
If Blair really feels that he cannot lose another minister to pressure from the media etc. then the Tories should rub their hands and let her continue to display how out of her depth she is.

  • 23.
  • At 01:24 PM on 18 Jan 2006,
  • Belinda wrote:

Annie, that is the case. I assist with the training and assessment of kids doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme Expeditions at Gold and Silver levels - all the staff involved have to have a number issued by the local authority, apparently following a police check, a review of our experience in terms of walking in wild country, and after receipt of a reference from someone who knows us and can comment on our character and the accuracy of our experience log. How far this need for 'accreditation' goes - youth clubs, etc - I don't know, but at least a framework is in place already.

  • 24.
  • At 01:30 PM on 18 Jan 2006,
  • Catherine wrote:

I think that this whole incident has generated a lot of thought and a great deal more understanding about the complexities of these lists etc. However, I am sickened at the way that Ms Kelly has been treated in the press.She has been harangued and ridiculed about every aspect of her life from Opus Dei, her education, her appearance,her voice etc. This is not fair and is not worthy of a tolerant society. I think that she has behaved in a very dignified manner and I hope she comes up trumps tomorrow. I also think that everyone should bear in mind what a complex subject this is and what a complex job being an eduction minister is. She has been in the post for one year. I really wish her well and hope that she manages to keep her job.

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