Kelly leaves me cold, a snooty voice of the elite

Last updated at 10:16 17 December 2004

Not too much sadness was evident in the Commons. Mere hours after David Blunkett had been catapulted into oblivion several of his old muckers from the Cabinet could be seen in decidedly merry form on the Government front bench yesterday lunchtime.

Gordon Brown was grinning (not something you see every day/week/month). Geoff Hoon was chuckling and slapping his knee - his own knee, that is, not Mr Brown's. Peter Hain was smiling broadly, not a specially pretty sight. Ditto Paul Boateng and the silver fox, Alistair Darling. All on peak form. Bubbling.

They looked like men celebrating something. Exit Home Secretary Blunkett, blubbing - and everyone else laughs! Ah, the fraternal solidarity of the political class.

One hopes that young Ruth Kelly, the new Education Secretary, is aware of just how quickly colleagues can recover from the 'tragedy' of seeing a fellow minister smashed to smithereens.

I must say that the Kelly appointment, although whooped by others, leaves me cool. She is a 21st century Shirley Williams: a snooty voice of the elite, untidy and lacks the common touch.

After this rapid promotion she will probably have earned the long-lasting enmity of several Cabinet members. I predict that the image makers will have her down to the post-Christmas sales to replenish her oatmealy wardrobe, sharpish.

Back to yesterday, though. The main excitement of the day came at 1.15pm when the Scots Nationalists staged a walk-out from the Chamber.

This happened after one of their gang, Annabelle Ewing (Perth) called Mr Hoon a rude name and refused to withdraw it. The Defence Secretary had just announced big changes to the Army, in the course of which he had done more to wreck our nation's regimental history than the combined might of Napoleon, Kaiser Bill and Hitler.

The Scottish regiments got off pretty lightly compared to their English and Welsh counterparts, but Miss Ewing was not impressed. Her constituency is home to the Black Watch.

So up she rose on her wee hind legs, spectacles steamy with indignation, to attack the 'gall' of Mr Hoon's decision to include the Iraq-scarred Black Watch in the regimental changes. With much pointing of one finger Miss Ewing called Mr Hoon, "nothing but a back-stabbing coward". A coward? Call for the smelling salts, Petunia! The Deputy Speaker, Sir Alan Haselhurst, immediately ruled that Miss Ewing's remark was out of order and asked her to withdraw it. She refused. Sir Alan tried again, advising her "not to compound the error".

Miss Ewing, betraying so little nervousness that one suspects she fully intended to get herself kicked out, said: "Although I have the utmost respect for you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have no respect for the Defence Secretary and I cannot withdraw the remark."

Sir Alan harrumphed and said she should leave the room. She was followed to the door by her party colleagues Alex Salmond (Banff & Buchan), Mike Weir (Angus) and Pete Wishart (N Tayside).

As Mr Salmond left the Chamber he hissed an insult at Mr Hoon. Up in the press gallery we all tried to work out where the Scots Nats would head first - the pub, or the TV studios?

Anger on the Tory benches at Mr Hoon's regimental changes was more convincing.

Cries of "disgrace!" greeted the minister's statement. There was also laughter as Mr Hoon used euphemisms such as his desire for "a more deployable, agile and flexible" Army (translation: smaller) and "the need to take account of regional and geographic" matters (ie whether any changes could damage Labour's chances of holding a marginal seat).

Mr Hoon behaved with disappointing gracelessness, accusing Tory MPs of opposing the regimental changes simply to bag a good show in their constituency newspapers. Hon Members: "That's cheap!"

I don't think Mr Hoon was right. If the Tories had truly been concerned with local news coverage they would surely have had themselves evicted, like the shrewd Scots Nats.