Hoon: Kelly to quit leak was 'serious mistake'

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Indy Politics

The leak of the news that Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly was set to leave the Government a "serious mistake", Chief Whip Geoff Hoon said today.

The disclosure that Ms Kelly was standing down in order to spend more time with her young family overshadowed the final day of Labour's annual party conference last week in Manchester.

Details were finally confirmed in a chaotic 3am briefing in a hotel bar by aides to Ms Kelly and Gordon Brown after reports began circulating around the conference centre.

It triggered a fresh round of behind-the-scenes recriminations among ministers after a conference which had largely seen talk of a leadership challenge to Mr Brown recede.

Mr Hoon, interviewed on Sky News's Sunday Live programme, accepted that the original leak was probably not deliberate but said that the way it had come out had not helped the Government.

"I don't think anyone could have been happy about that situation, least of all Ruth Kelly. I thought she handled it with commendable dignity," he said.

"I thought that whoever was responsible for that particular piece of briefing acted irresponsibly and not in the best interests of the Government. Therefore I certainly regret it.

"I doubt actually, given the circumstances, that it was done deliberately. I think this kind of late night gossiping is a feature, unfortunately, of party conferences.

"What I do say is that whoever was responsible did make a serious mistake and that has not helped the Government."

Mr Hoon refused to be drawn on reports that Mr Brown could now delay his planned Cabinet reshuffle amid warnings that a string of ministers could resign if he tried to move them their current jobs.

"Reshuffles are matters exclusively for prime ministers," he said.

However Mr Hoon strongly played down suggestions that he was about to move to Brussels as Britain's next EU Commissioner, which would trigger another difficult by-election in his Ashfield constituency in Derbyshire.

"I would like to remain a member of the Government. That is obviously a matter for the Prime Minister," he said.

"What I can say is that I am absolutely focused on my constituents in Ashfield, protecting their welfare, supporting their case where necessary against government, and I think it is vitally important that I should go on doing that. That's certainly my intention."