Various explanations have been offered for the decision by the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, to leave for his summer holiday before the funeral this week of Dr David Kelly. Mr Hoon himself has let it be known via ‘friends’ that he would be in trouble with his wife Elaine if he delayed a holiday that was already planned. Others have speculated that he would not have been welcome at Dr Kelly’s funeral.
It is possible that the speculation is accurate, but I wonder. One does not, so far as I know, need permission, still less an invitation, to attend a funeral, but if Mr Hoon felt that his presence might be upsetting to the late Dr Kelly’s family, it would have been open to him to say that, given his inevitable closeness to the events leading up to Dr Kelly’s death, and the charges and counter-charges flying about in the media, the Defence Secretary felt it might be tactless and a distraction to intrude. One would have had some sympathy for Mr Hoon if he had taken this course.
His advisers will surely have warned him what the popular press would do with a ‘Hoon bunks off’ story; no press secretary worth his or her name would have recommended it. So I incline to think that his wife really did intervene: Elaine Hoon is spoken of as a strong-minded woman. Her husband Geoff has always seemed, by contrast, a little colourless.
And one’s mind turns to another Blairite New Labour couple: the former health secretary, Alan Milburn, and his partner Dr Ruth Briel. Nobody could call Mr Milburn colourless but, fierce as he is, Dr Briel is said to be – in the nicest possible way – fiercer. Her husband’s sudden resignation, halfway through what looked like a fast-rising Cabinet career, mystified the political world, but of the many explanations on offer, one much-repeated rumour is very convincing: that Dr Briel required him in no uncertain terms to return to the bosom of his family.