Supermum takes on education brief

December 24, 2004

Ruth Kelly is seen by some as a "supermum" who juggles top-flight politics with family life, writes Paul Hill.

As the mother of four young children, she is well placed to oversee the Government's education reforms and assuage parents' concerns.

To others, she is the future face of government: the first of a generation of new Labour policy wonks to reach the Cabinet; an ambitious minister-on-the-up skilled in economics who has impressed Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown without being too closely aligned to either.

At 36, Ms Kelly's appointment as Education Secretary makes her the youngest member of the Cabinet by ten years and the youngest since Harold Wilson took his seat at the top table at 31.

Ms Kelly was born in Northern Ireland and educated at Westminster School and Queen's College, Oxford - where she switched from medicine to politics, philosophy and economics in her first year - before taking an MSc in economics at the London School of Economics.

In 1990, she wrote to Will Hutton, the then economics editor of The Guardian , asking to work as his researcher and found herself taking on the role of economics correspondent for the newspaper.

Ms Kelly is a devout Roman Catholic and is said to have conservative opinions on abortion and contraception. She is reported to have resolved not to accept posts, if offered, at either the Department of Health or the Department for International Development.

After four years at The Guardian , Ms Kelly was headhunted by Mervyn King, the then deputy-governor of the Bank of England, to work on the bank's Inflation Report .

She married Derek Gadd, a local government officer, in 1996, a year before she took the seat of Bolton West from the Tories. Ms Kelly supported the successful campaign by Bolton Institute to attain university status.

Eleven days after winning her parliamentary seat, Ms Kelly gave birth to her first child.

After a spell on the Treasury Select Committee, she took her first step up the promotion ladder by becoming a parliamentary aide to Nick Brown, the then Agriculture Minister, at the onset of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

But her first ministerial job came shortly after the 2001 election, when she became Economic Secretary at the Treasury - impressing Mr Brown with her mastery of the brief.

A move to Financial Secretary at the Treasury was followed by a stint as Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, focusing on election planning and drafting the next manifesto with Alan Milburn.

Ms Kelly is renowned for drawing a distinction between work and family life, being one of the few ministers not to take departmental "red boxes" home to work on at weekends. It remains to be seen whether she can maintain this resolution as a Cabinet minister.

"She's very good, intelligent, massively energetic. She's got to be to have four kids and run a Government department," Kim Howells, the Higher Education Minister, told The Times Higher .


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