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Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 13:12 GMT
Minister takes maternity leave
Yvette Cooper
Yvette Cooper: Expecting a baby in August
Is it a drastic move to gain hands-on knowledge of her ministerial brief or an attempt to loyally follow in the footsteps of Tony Blair?

Even if there are no hidden motives one thing is certain - the pregnancy of junior health minister Yvette Cooper, whose responsibilities include maternity services, will make her the first serving minister to take time off to have a baby.

We are planning to have the baby in Pontefract. The NHS staff there were wonderful to us last time round

Yvette Cooper
The 31-year-old and her husband Ed Balls, aged 33 and chief economic adviser to the Treasury, are expecting their second baby in August.

They plan to have the child delivered at the local NHS hospital in Ms Cooper's constituency of Pontefract, West Yorkshire.

In a joint statement making the announcement the couple said: "We are delighted and the whole family is looking forward to our new arrival."

The minister has discussed her plans with her immediate boss, Health Secretary Alan Milburn, as well as the Cabinet Office.

She intends to take maternity leave from July until around the end of the year.

Mr Balls will take paternity leave from the Treasury, as he did when the couple's first baby, 20-month-old Meriel, was born.

Tony Blair with baby Leo
Leo Blair was born in May 2000
The pregnancy comes nine months after Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie celebrated the birth of their fourth child, Leo.

Ms Cooper and her husband have been dubbed the "golden couple" of new Labour and she has even been spoken of as a future leader of the party.

She was among the large influx of fresh Labour MPs at the 1997 general election and enjoyed a swift promotion to ministerial level in October 1999, having already had her first child.

Before entering politics she worked as a leader writer on The Independent newspaper.

Mr Balls, also a former journalist, has long been Chancellor Gordon Brown's right-hand man.

He is credited with planning Labour's post-election move giving the Bank of England independence to set interest rates.

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All hail the lovely Leo
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