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UK Politics

Kelly: Rapid rise led to eventful career

Ruth Kelly's decision to stand down as Transport Secretary at the next reshuffle heralds the imminent end of a short but eventful Cabinet career.

Now 40, she was the youngest Cabinet minister by a decade when she entered the cabinet at 36 and the promotion raised eyebrows, and envy, among more experienced colleagues.

Since then she has held three cabinet posts as Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and most recently Secretary of State for Transport.

The rapid rise came despite giving birth to a record for a sitting MP of four children since she was first elected in 1997.

She also came under scrutiny with revelations of her links to Opus Dei, the Roman Catholic prelature made famous in Dan Brown's blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code.

Ms Kelly rejected calls to break off her links with the group or quit, saying: "It is a private spiritual life and I don't think it is relevant to my job. I am here as a Catholic."

That row, when she was Education Secretary, was swiftly followed by condemnation from teaching unions after she rejected Government adviser Sir Mike Tomlinson's proposals to replace GCSEs and A-levels with a new diploma.

She also came under pressure during her tenure at the Department of Education when it emerged some sex offenders were working in schools.

Ms Kelly's majority in what is now a marginal Bolton West constituency was halved at the 2005 election but she survived only to suffer fresh embarrassment in the subsequent "botched" reshuffle.

Tony Blair wanted to parachute his leading education adviser Andrew, now Lord, Adonis into the department.

Knowing she would be undermined, Ms Kelly opposed the decision only to be offered a return to the Treasury as then Chancellor Gordon Brown's deputy.

In the end, despite reports that she had seen him off which are thought to have angered No 10, the peer was installed as her junior minister.

Ms Kelly was born on May 6, 1968, in Limavady, Northern Ireland, and educated at Sutton High School, Westminster School, Queen's College, Oxford, and the London School of Economics.

She married Derek Gadd, a local government officer, in 1996, and he reportedly changed his job to help Ms Kelly's career.

Ms Kelly gave birth to her first child just 11 days after being returned to Westminster.

That did not stop her swiftly being appointed parliamentary private secretary to then Agriculture Secretary Nick Brown.

However, three more children in the course of the four-year Parliament did partly stall her promotion.

After the 2001 election she was able to put her previous experience into practice when she was appointed economic secretary to the Treasury. Promotion to financial secretary followed a year later.

She was moved to Cabinet Office minister in the September 2004 reshuffle to co-ordinate Labour's election strategy in a key role under arch Blairite Alan Milburn.

It was David Blunkett's first Cabinet departure that prompted her promotion to the top team.

When Charles Clarke took over as Home Secretary she moved to the Education brief.

Earlier this year, Ms Kelly refused to vote with the Government for the legalisation of hybrid human-animal embryos and "saviour siblings" because of her religious beliefs.

While Ms Kelly's busy home life will doubtless take up much of her time, as a backbencher she will have freedom to air her views on subjects such as abortion and stem cell research.