James Purnell seems to have become an expert in the art of the unexpected.
First, he resigns from the cabinet. No one expected that.
He moves to Demos to direct their Open Left project. Once there, he could have decided that the future of the left was simply a warming over of Blairite New Labour. That would have been the safe thing to do, and what many a leading politician in his position would have done.
But he begins to develop a new perspective which integrates aspects of New Labour - choice in the public sector, welfare conditionality - with a quite different conception of 'empowerment' based on community organizing and setting democratic limits to the market.
Then, in the very week that he launches a key, initial report from the Open Left project, and is quite reasonably touted as a potential party leader, he stands down as an MP.
And then he announces he is to retrain as a community organizer with London Citizens.
Following his announcement that he is standing down as an MP, Jessica Asato wrote eloquently at CiF on the theme of 'Farewell to the philosopher politician'. But as the story fills out, perhaps we should see this also as a case of 'Hello to the philosopher politician'?
The Open Left project continues. And by retraining as a community organizer, Purnell will not be so much abandoning politics as finding a new way to be politically engaged. But a way of being engaged that also allows freedom of thought and expression.
There, of course, is something that should give us pause. Isn't it worrying that someone has to leave parliamentary politics to feel they can engage in this way?
Amongst all the commentary about Purnell's resignation today, I was particularly struck by this comment by Stephen Tall at LibDem Voice:
'Perhaps the bigger blow, though, is to the role of the professional politician. Whether you agree with Mr Purnell or not, like him or not, he is intelligent, articulate, youthful: he adds to public life, and will presumably wish to contribute to it still. What does it say about Parliament, or about the life of an MP, that he would much rather operate from beyond Westminster?'