Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ruth Kelly's sleepless night

It must have been noisy in that conference hotel in Manchester. All those Labour party workers singing and dancing 'til the early hours, celebrating a speech by their leader. Ruth Kelly probably went to bed early, after 'phoning home and telling her family what a great speech Gordon gave. But her reverie was interrupted by the partying downstairs. Pausing only to don her quilted dressing gown, she decided to take action. Thumbing through her Filofax, she rang every news outlet, explaining that she was standing down from the Government. With a satisfied smile, she must have dropped off to a deep slumber.

Imagine her surprise this morning when all of the headlines were about her and not Gordon's speech.

Of course, that's not what really happened. The official story is that Ruth wants to spend more time with her family (no, honestly), and that Gordon knew several months ago of her decision, but asked her to wait until the next Cabinet reshuffle. So why did she make the announcement in the wee small hours this morning? Couldn't she have waited until the reshuffle in a week or two?

That depends on the impact she wanted to have. Despite her protestations, her timing was a brilliant piece of PR, from someone disenchanted with the leadership of Gordon Brown. Cabinet ministers rarely resign. She knew it would be a huge story, and knock any feel-good factor from yesterday off the front pages. In my view, she made a calculated political decision to inflict damage on a leader who she used to strongly support.

That's the way it goes in politics. Timing is everything. It's a lesson for us all. If you deliver the right message at the right time, everyone listens.

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