Why hasn't Ruth Kelly gone?
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.