Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Purnell Affair

James Purnell's decision to stand down from parliament has been a little overshadowed by the Rawnsley revelations, but that it has an impact on the future of the modernising left is clear. The Times' Danny Finkelstein comments on its importance here. Another comment I have heard is that it changes the dynamics of any future leadership election considerably. Purnell was both a possible contender, or at the very least a key putative ally of David Miliband's who could both bring in the right and extend the appeal of a Miliband bid to John Cruddas and his supporters on the soft left. My informant tells me this would have been effectively an 'encircling' manouevre against a Harman or Balls candidacy. Without Purnell, the Miliband team is without a 'big tent' champion of credibility.

Also interestingly, James Purnell's decision, at just 39, to leave parliament is a further reflection on the parlous state of that institution's reputation. That such a one-time high-flier, who has dedicated his life to politics, should now see a better chance of achieving political aims outside of parliament is a sad comment on the state of MPs, their efficacy and their morale, at the moment. The major challenge of the new parliament, whatever its composition, comprised as it will be of a virtually unprecedented number of new MPs, will be to act to restore integrity and commitment to its undertakings. It will not be on things like expenses - which have now, anyway, been the subject of such severe restrictions that they are unlikely to be a problem for the foreseeable future - but on the way in which these MPs utilise their legislative roles in the scrutinising and passing of better, meaningful laws. Once they begin to show that they have vision and teeth, it will be time to reconsider the relatively meagre remunerations they currently receive. There is no value to a democracy in failing to entice able people from all sectors of life into its legislatures by suitable remunerative packages, and for all the fuss about expenses, this will have to be addressed at some point. We need a positive, effective parliament, and continualy belittling our MPs will never be the way to achieving that.

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