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Monday, May 08, 2006
What next for the ex-ODPM? Profile of Ruth Kelly
Obviously the big topic over the weekend was what the Cabinet reshuffle means for planning and the many huge regeneration schemes in progress all over the country, directly affecting the lives of millions of people. I was a bit annoyed to talk to someone who works at the Foregin Office on Saturday who glibly mentioned that he thought the ODPM 'didn't really do much'. What?? It may be hopelessly inefficient (just like the FO) but it really does impact on people's lives in a way few departments do, I would say.

Well, now its the Department for Communities and Local Government, now it's Ruth Kelly not Prezza - and what have we got in store?

The DCLG strangely has expanded responsibilities but less cabinet ministers. Its new remit includes Home Office community and civic responsibilities alonside race, faith and gender policy stuff that's being consolidated from across several different departments. Tellingly, although it gets some Home Office portfolios, it does not get the so-called 'Respect' agenda which stays firmly with the crime and punishment section of the government, not the 'civic renewal' bit. Says all you need to know, doesn't it.

And what does this mean? In a piece of non-news, the CPRE are trying to make everyone believe that Kelly's accession might mean that the south-East growth plans will get dropped quietly. As if that would really be possible. I'm quite curious that Miliband didn't become the minister in charge and I'm not sure what I think of Kelly's Catholic family values coming into the arena of 'communities.'

She's definitely a New Labour loyalist, that's for certain - as anyone who witnessed her performance to force through the deeply unpopular Education Bill recently will affirm. Although its interesting to see that she did work with IPPR on an early report into PFI which was a little bit scpetical. How all parties have changed their tunes now. She's apparently squeaky-clean - apart from the Opus Dei question - as the Register of Member's Interests records only a pair of tickets to see Harry Potter where others hold lucrative directorships or receive expensive holidays for free.

She's got a reputation for caring about the issues of working mothers. She's got four kids herself, famously giving birth eleven days after first being elected as an MP. She refuses to work long hours or take a red box in the evening, which has allegedly caused problems with the speed at which she has made decisions or engaged with issues within her own Department. There's a good profile of her here if you want to find out more about her personality.

I don't know what she'll be like on the issues that face her now. I like the fact that she knows about being a working mother and perhaps will place more emphasis on quality of life within new 'sustainable' communities. But at the same time I think she definitely has a Gordon Brown-esque belief in the voluntary sector providing local social services and I think we may see the Treasury and the DCLG getting much closer. Her and Yvette Cooper will make some double act - two rather boyish women in trouser suits with the postures and party loyalty of Soviet social realist poster-girls but the scariness of twin young Thatchers. Can anyone add any comments about what we should look out for?

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