James Purnell MP – a gracious exit

The announcement yesterday by former work and pensions minister James Purnell MP that he intended to stand down from politics, not seeking reelection at the General Election was probably no surprise to many.  He is said to accept now that ‘for better or worse’ the Labour Party will enter a General Election with Gordon Brown at the helm.

Having worked for Tony Blair when he was a student, Mr Purnell approaches his 40th year having spent his working life in the Westminster village.  I recall talking with John Gummer MP a few years ago when we both happened to be speaking from the same platform.  He explained his views on “professional” MPs; that he felt having a working life outside Parliamentary responsibilities gave one a more balanced view in Commons debates.

Mr Purnell says he wants a ‘normal life’ and is ‘fed up’ with Parliament.  But I wonder how much of his decision was the result of staring into the future after an election, with Labour in a post-Brown political wilderness?  It would be a cold and fruitless existence for a young backbench MP who through his actions last summer – he resigned from Cabinet, claiming Gordon Brown’s continuance as party leader made a Conservative victory “more not less likely” – would be unlikely to achieve higher status for a term or two yet.

All things considered, Mr Purnell has been gracious indeed to stand down quietly.

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