All through their long, tortured delivery, home information packs have appeared a policy good in intention but bad in handling. Critics allege that ministers have been unwilling to consult or explain themselves, forcing through a set policy. Yesterday afternoon, even as Ruth Kelly bowed to her opponents, she demonstrated the justification of their grievances, managing to be both summary and vague. Just eight days before the launch of a policy that would affect every homeowner and would-be homeowner in England and Wales, Ms Kelly decided to mothball the entire thing. Why? Like a pupil with late homework, her explanations multiplied and got more complex as she went along. First there was a judicial review that had been lodged by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Yet she admitted she had known about the judge's order since last Thursday. Why not come to the Commons sooner? No answer. Then Ms Kelly admitted there were not enough fully certified assessors to provide the energy performance certificates that are a core part of the packs. The shortage, in fact, amounts to just under 2,000 assessors. Ms Kelly would have known of this bottleneck long ago. Why wait until now? No answer.
As some of us will recall, Ms Kelly as Education Secretary was also involved in that business about sex offenders in schools. Then there was the proposed exemption of churches in relation to adoption by single sex couples. But we shouldn't necessarily blame her for switching her son to a private school. You can read up on Ms Kelly's travails here.
Then there is that voice. As Mr Hoggart puts it:
You can tell when Ms Kelly is under stress, because her curiously rural vowels become stronger. "Oid have thought that oil soides would agree..." she said at one point.
The poor girl has worked so hard to eliminate any trace of a Northern Irish accent that she now sounds rather like a Cornish speaking clock. Either that or it's the barbed wire garter.