20 February 2010

Purnell’s departure: The role Mandelson must now play

Before we move on to the events that will dominate the weekend (Labour’s campaign launch, Rawnsleys’s book and Mandelson’s interview with Marr on Sunday), we need to pay some attention to the consequences of James Purnell’s departure.

Daniel Finkelstein is correct when he summed up where this leaves the Labour party:

The departure of James Purnell is a disaster for the centre left. Because he really mattered.

So the disaster is not just that his departure robs them of  someone brave and talented who understood the need for Labour to appeal to the centre. It is not simply that he was someone who was a spokesman for a talented group of tough minded liberals in the Labour Party.

It's that there really isn't anyone else who can do what Purnell can do.

As discussed, this leaves David Miliband isolated, a point picked up by Steve Richards:

His departure is a blow to David Miliband, a contemporary who stays behind to fight for the leadership after the election. Miliband worked closely with Purnell when they were advisers to Blair in opposition and in No 10. At a Labour conference fringe meeting a couple of years ago, when there was feverish speculation about a coup against Gordon Brown, I asked Purnell how often he spoke to Miliband. "We speak most days ... sometimes several times," he said with a provocative evasiveness. The coups went nowhere but Miliband has lost an ally in the battles to come.

Mandelson, who appreciates more than most what Purnell’s departure means for the Labour party, had this to say:

He has been a very good member of our party and an excellent minister.  But I realise that he is looking to his future and wondering what he wants to spend the rest of life doing, and has opted for a different life. Politics and Parliament will be poorer for that and I regret his decision very much.

After the election (let’s not kid ourselves, Labour is likely to lose) there is a responsibility that sits on Mandelson’s shoulders.  He has to ensure that the party elects a leader that carries the Blairite project forward.

David Miliband may not be everyone's choice, but who else is there if the party is going to regain the centre ground?

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