There seems to be considerable surprise today that James Purnell, former Work & Pensions secretary, is to stand down as a Member of Parliament at the general election. Purnell is 39 and has been an MP since 2001. Personally I’ve never really worked out what I think of Purnell – perhaps because I dislike the Blairite-Brownite frame for explaining the Labour Party and he is always mentioned in the same breath as one of the camps. As far I’m concerned, wherever you stand in Labour the party undoubtedly needs good and intelligent people and he is one of them.
But why all of the introspection about Purnell and others that may or may not be standing down? Because Labour actually has a good line-up of decent candidates that could be ready to fill Purnell’s shoes. For me foremost among those would be Liz Kendall, one of my web clients. Liz is Labour candidate in Leicester West. She’s 38, a year younger than Purnell, is equally sharp and communicative, and has plenty of interesting and relevant experience, having also previously worked as a SpAd to Patricia Hewitt.
There are other Labour candidates that could very well step up and fill Purnell’s shoes – Emma Reynolds or Chuka Umunna (another web client of mine) for example.
The British press are always ready to bemoan people who commit their entire lives to politics. Purnell is choosing to not do that for now, and there may well be a route back for him in the future. Labour is going to have a tough time over the next few months and years, and it’s vital that good and determined people play a role in the renewal of the party, and there are people that can fill Purnell’s shoes to do that.
I agree it’s interesting, and I too don’t know what’s good or bad here…
Incredible Edible Tod is another interesting campaign / local activism idea pioneered by someone who was one a budding party politician.
However I think there are a whole load of areas of our lives that still need parliamentary democracy and legislation to accomplish and so – done well – going into Parliament is probably a good approach. Aiming for Westminster seems to imply a whole series of hoops to jump through that are quite horrid however.
I think that Purnell’s decision – leaving Parliament to become a community organiser – is a sign of the times. London Citizens is the kind of group that seems to be supplanting the Labour Party as the home for people who want to get things done on social justice issues, such as the living wage. Going into Parliament appears to be an increasingly ‘old school’ approach to politics. I’m not sure if this is an encouraging or a depressing situation. Interesting times.