Page last updated at 01:31 GMT, Saturday, 18 July 2009 02:31 UK

Purnell 'lost faith months ago'

Gordon Brown and James Purnell
Mr Purnell said it was unlikely he would return to frontline politics

Former Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell, who quit the cabinet last month, has said he lost faith in Gordon Brown as leader six months ago.

Mr Purnell told the Guardian he had been considering resigning since December because he no longer believed Mr Brown could win the next election.

He also urged Labour to recapture the idealism of its first days in power.

However, Home Secretary Alan Johnson has told the Telegraph Mr Brown is the "best man for the job".

And ex-Defence Secretary John Hutton - speaking on the BBC's Straight Talk programme - said Mr Brown had "many, many talents" and it was a "tragedy" voters did not see them.

Mr Purnell, in his first interview since leaving the cabinet, spoke of making the difficult decision to quit.

"I had been thinking, 'Has the elastic stretched beyond the point where I feel I am being true to myself?'" he said.

But he had not expected other ministers to follow his lead when he quit during local and European elections, he said.

'Bit like Britpop'

Mr Purnell, who hinted that he was unlikely to return to frontbench politics, was one of the most senior ministers to walk out of Mr Brown's government last month and the only cabinet minister to call on the prime minister to stand down.

In his resignation letter, Mr Purnell told Mr Brown: "I now believe your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less likely."

We need to open up New Labour, reinvent it and then eventually move beyond it
James Purnell

In the interview, Mr Purnell urged his party to move beyond the idea of New Labour, but also admitted he was "nostalgic" for those early days.

"All those Blairite, New Labour labels… for me, it's a bit like Britpop - I feel nostalgic for it, it was absolutely right for its time but that time was 1994," he said.

"It's a very different feeling being 12 years into government from the idealism of the start, but we need to recapture that idealism, not by living in the past or by aping New Labour or just sticking to the old tunes.

"We need to open up New Labour, reinvent it and then eventually move beyond it."

On Monday, Mr Purnell will join left-wing Labour MP Jon Cruddas at the launch of a three-year project on the future of the Labour Party by thinktank Demos.

But he said he did not believe he would return to the Labour frontbenches.

"The way I am feeling at the moment it is pretty unlikely I'll want to go back into frontline politics," he said.

"I never want to leave politics - I love politics. I love ideas and I was pretty excited by the Department for Work and Pensions, but actually I get exactly the same kick, in some ways in a freer way, from the stuff I am doing at Demos."

'Best man'

Mr Purnell also revealed that he and Foreign Secretary David Miliband had met twice since his resignation and he called Mr Miliband "one of the most serious politicians of his generation".

But while Mr Miliband admitted last month that he had also considered resigning at the same time as Mr Purnell, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said he never entertained similar thoughts.

"Not one millisecond. Not at all. I have always been clear about this," he told the Telegraph.

"Gordon Brown is the best man for the job. If I thought I was the better man I might think differently, but I don't."

He added that he thought it was "unlikely" he would ever be leader of the Labour Party.

Meanwhile, Mr Hutton told Straight Talk that the prime minister's attempt to cast the forthcoming election as a choice between Labour investment and Conservative cuts was "too crude" and did not reflect voters' desire for "honesty" from politicians.

"I think that's going to have to be, sort of, refined," he said.

"Everyone knows that the belt - the national belt - is going to have to be tightened and they want honesty from politicians and they want to know what their priorities are for public spending because we certainly can't go on, I believe, spending at the rate that we are."

But while Mr Hutton accepted he had "not always seen eye to eye with Gordon", he added: "I have got to appreciate his many, many talents and skills; I think, though, that the tragedy is that the country doesn't see that."



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