Fraser Nelson

Purnell starts building his leadership platform

Purnell starts building his leadership platform
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Since I hailed James Purnell as a possible Labour leader just over a year ago , CoffeeHousers have been, to put it politely, unconvinced. But pick up The Guardian today, and I tell you: my boy's on track. He has given an interview to Allegra Stratton which puts him squarely in the frame to be Labour's leader-after-next. She came away thinking that he'll "probably never stand to be leader," but my impression is different. I mean, he tells her that he decided to quit the government while sitting "on a park bench on a former council estate in his constituency". Note, not at Eat (where he'd always nip out for drinkable coffee while at the DWP), not at one of his favourite Soho restaurants. His Newtonian apple drops while he's sitting on a park bench in a touched-up Manchester scheme. Classic. Ms Stratton gives her take-home points from her interview here - including quotes not in the longer piece. My take below:

1. His first interview to The Guardian. His first ministerial interview was with The Spectator - a smart move for someone wanting to reach out to those of us on the fair-and-balanced right. But Purnell's target constituency is now on what I call the sane left. Those who openly recognise Brown is an unalloyed  disaster, but don't think a lurch to the left is a solution.

2. Beyond Blair. Purnell's problem is that he is regarded as an orphaned Blairite. This irritates people like him: they don't want the Labour Party to be like Blake's Seven after Blake died. So what do they say? Purnell has an answer.

3. David Miliband. He'll back David Miliband this time around just as he pledged to if Milipede had the bottle to stand the last two times. Which he didn't. He heaps praise on Miliband all the way through, though we have all seen which of these two has the raw nerve needed to be Prime Minister.

4. Blair was so 1994. "All those Blairite, New Labour labels ... for me, it's a bit like Britpop – I feel nostalgic for it, it was absolutely right for its time but that time was 1994. It's a very different feeling being 12 years into government from the idealism of the start, but we need to recapture that idealism, not by living in the past or by aping New Labour or just sticking to the old tunes. We need to open up New Labour, reinvent it and then eventually move beyond it." I wonder whether, in framing this answer, he has John Dower's 2003 film Live Forever in his mind - it makes much the same point.

5. Demos. The think-tank will be his John Smith Institute. Except trendier. He says of Demos: "We're going to go through Labour values, match them to what we've done and then identify challenges and then organise a team around those challenges." So Demos will become Electable Labour In Exile.

6. But he's still stuck in that 1994 cul de sac of "Market Socialism".
"It's not a phrase that is ever going to inspire a political movement but it does capture a lot of what I believe – that markets are a good means to spread power and create innovation but they can be yoked to leftwing goals and not to capitalism." This is a well-worn staging post on people's journey to conservatism. If he does enough research at Demos, he'll come to realise that "leftwing goals" -ie, fairness, poverty reduction, etc - can never be achieved by leftwing means. This is the great tragedy of leftism: all that energy expended by all those well-meaning people, all wasted. Such goals are best achieved by capitalism. Ask China. Or Korea.

7. Labour's schools policy. He says New Labour became "too small-c conservative" on schools policy - but he doesn't say much more. A shame, I could have heard him get stuck in. If he had taken over at education, I suspect Gove would have had far more of of a run for his money.

8. He's going to die wearing a wristband. Or, as Stratton puts it, "The white rubber wristband he wears he says he will keep wearing until the UK hits its target to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid".

9. Kill Cam. "The way I feel at the moment is it's pretty unlikely I'll want to go back into frontline politics," he says. Quite right. He needs to go away and train. Like The Bride in Kill Bill Vol. 1, and come back, sword aloft, duelling with Cameron in 2014.  The question is whether the Labour Party has by then been sold for scrap to the unions, and will be in any fit state to accept a leader that could win elections.

10. What he doesn't say. His seat is vulnerable at the next election yet there was none of the Blears' style "spending more time with my constituents" stuff. Just Demos, Demos and Demos. If he loses his seat, I'd recommend he then spends some time teaching in some tough comprehensive: his leadership credentials lack that real-world experience. Demos is no substitute, either.

11. Yes, he was offered Ed Balls' job.  I told you so on the night of the election, and Stratton confirms in her interview - he was offered health and education, and chose education. Then chose to quit. And, in so doing, forced Brown to row back  - and saved us from having debt-concealing, tricksy old Balls at the Treasury. For that, he has our thanks.

12. One final thing. Purnell starts off his interview saying "you can't go far wrong with the truth" and finishes advising Brown to offer a new job within a year to everyone who is laid off. Purnell will know better than most that those jobs don't exist - the number of vacancies is falling off a cliff. As this is my penultimate post before my summer holidays, CoffeeHousers may indulge me in a graph showing just this:

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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