Tuesday, 16 September 2008

James Purnell: heir to Keir Hardie?

"Heir to Keir" is the slightly tongue-in-cheek headline on my interview with James Purnell in the Fabian Review, published tomorrow, as the brilliant Adrian Teal's cartoon picks up on the Work and Pensions Secretary's argument that the rights and responsibilities approach to work and welfare is deeply embedded in Labour's history.

Having argued that responsibility was central to Beveridge’s vision, in launching his Green Paper, he now reaches further back to trace the Labour pedigree of arguments for the dignity of work: “It’s in the very name of the party: the origins of the movement were about the demand for jobs. Go back to Keir Hardie and his maiden speech in the House of Commons in 1893 was about people working in return for their benefits. This has always been at the heart of what the Labour movement believes in.

And Purnell is also admirably clear in the interview about what Labour's positive argument needs to be, confidently articulating the case for redistribution and the role of the state, as Sam Coates reports. He says that Labour's difficulty in showing there are clear differences between the two party's reflects David Cameron's "hugging strategy".

Purnell has some experience of being ‘hugged’ by the right himself. The Fabian Review interview may disappoint Fraser Nelson - could the Spectator's political editor be rethinking his eye-catching front cover endorsement of James Purnell as Labour's next leader?

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