Monday, January 28, 2008


Purnell Suggests he Might be Shape of Things to Come

Tony Blair, became very 'legacy conscious' in his final months in charge and soon into his successor's time in office, there were complaints from some Blairites that his welfare reform policy was being dismantled. Blair's approach was to be wholly pragmatic:if private sector provision could do the job more efficiently or cheaply, there should be no inhibitions about embracing it.

I worry about health entrepreneurs steaming into formerly NHS territory, sacking skilled staff and employing new on inferior contracts but apart from that I think Old Labour objections are mostly irrelevant. It seems James Purnell has been sanctioned by Brown to restate the Blairite holy writ on this. This marks a U turn for Gordon from the days when he sought to distance himself from his PM by appealing to the more traditional left-wing elements of his party. Remember his attack on Blair at the 2003 conference? In a clear assault on Blair's centrist vision of New Labour, his peroration was:

'The Labour Party is best when we are boldest,best when we are united, best when we are Labour'[two minute standing ovation]

The next day Blair produced a corruscating oration which squashed Brown's(widely interpreted) attempted bid for leadership then rather than later; Gordon sat glumly staring, refusing to join in with the rapturous applause. Now we hear Brown will today endorse the Freud Report into welfare reform:

Purnell told The Observer that the government will endorse the report and go further. In language that would once have sparked war between the Blair and Brown camps, Purnell said that Labour is 'ideologically neutral' between the three sectors - private, public and voluntary. 'Progressives want to make the world a better place. If people can do that using the private sector, the public sector or the voluntary, why not? We are ideologically neutral between all three; we want to use all three.'

The prominence the former Culture Secretary has been allowed to make this declaration suggests he might be the next Cabinet minister to bear the poisoned chalice of being labelled 'Labour's Future Prime Minister'. David Miliband will be relieved.

It's not original as I have posted this on Hopi Sen's blog as well... but Purnell manages to make the Boy David look positively elder-statesman-like!

I think John Denham (a former pensions minister) can feel pretty miffed at being overlooked for the DWP on this occasion, although as I argued several times, the best appointment would have been to bring back Milburn.
Where is he? Not another stroke, one hopes.
I don't think it is true that New Labour was/is "ideologically neutral" between public/private. They said this. But in reality they had a dogmatic zeal for private as against public. Things have gone so far that Norman Tebbit (rather mischievously I think) says, in last Sunday's Observer magazine: "These days I find myself saying: 'Chaps, there are some things that should not be privatised'".
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