Page last updated at 11:28 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 12:28 UK

Kelly bids a fond farewell

By Brian Wheeler
BBC News, Labour conference, Manchester

Ruth Kelly and Gordon Brown
Mr Brown kept up a fixed smile for the delegates - and cameras

Gordon Brown has experienced whatever the opposite of a Geoffrey Howe moment is.

The Tory deputy prime minister famously torpedoed Margaret Thatcher with an elegantly phrased but lethal resignation speech in 1990.

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, on the other hand, came not to bury the prime minister but to praise him.

Her sudden resignation - for "family reasons" - on the day after Mr Brown's big conference speech has generated all kinds of rumours about dissent in the cabinet ranks.

Her farewell speech to the Labour Party conference was designed to leave absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind where she stood on the Brown question.

As a choreographed display of unity it went without a hitch.


Mr Brown bounded on to the platform a few minutes before she was due to speak and, with a touch of the shoulder and a big grin for the cameras, signalled there were no hard feelings. We all have families. It can be tough for all of us.

I now owe it to my children and family to take a step back and start putting them first
Ruth Kelly

Poor old Hillary Benn, sitting on the other side of Mr Brown on the conference platform, did not get a look-in as the PM chatted with exaggerated animation to Ms Kelly - as the flashbulbs continued to pop away.

Ms Kelly was clearly eaten up with nerves, but the atmosphere was hardly electric.

The hall, three quarters full and a bit lethargic, roused itself for an ovation, as she approached the lectern.

'Proud mother'

She had been due to make a speech on transport, but did not waste any time in getting to the subject at hand.

"It's been a tremendous privilege to have worked with both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, two towering figures in the Labour Party, government and on the world stage.

"But, as well as a frontline politician, I'm also proud to be a mother and wife.

Ruth Kelly's poignant farewell speech

"I now owe it to my friends and family to take a step back and to start putting them first.

"If I do not, I know that if I do not, it's something that I will come to regret deeply."

It would have been nice to tell conference she had fought for world peace or cured hunger and want.

However, as a minister with one of the more prosaic briefs in cabinet, her list of achievements in office was a little more modest.

"There are some who claim there would be no difference between a Conservative and a Labour government.

"But, conference, tell that to the pensioner using her free bus pass, not just in her own neighbourhood but now right across the country.

"Tell that to the young mum who can now rely on a brand-new bus service to take her to the local shops. And tell that to the commuter who is benefitting from newer, more frequent and more reliable trains".

As she reached the end of her brief speech, her voice cracked with emotion.

"This is the greatest of parties, which has fundamentally changed Britain for the better since 1997," she told delegates. "It has been the greatest honour of my life to be able to play a part in that. I am leaving this stage today, but I will be with this great party all the way in the battle."

The heaving sigh she took as she crossed the platform to the waiting Mr Brown showed just how much of pressure she had been under.

The two soaked up the applause for a moment before leaving the stage together, leaving Mr Benn sitting on his own again.

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