Purnell's decision to quit is a blow for Labour

The party has lost one of its most innovative thinkers.

James Purnell's surprise announcement that he will be leaving parliament at the election is a big blow to Labour. First, the party has lost one of its brightest and most innovative thinkers. Purnell is one of the few MPs who has genuinely sought to rethink the relationship between the state and the market in the wake of the economic crisis, and his recent essay for the Guardian provided one of the most thoughtful and articulate discussions of the limits of the Third Way.

Second, the media will present his resignation as another vote of no confidence in Gordon Brown's leadership. Earlier this week, Purnell told LabourList that he believed Gordon Brown could still win the election, but his decision to stand down suggests that he didn't fancy the long, hard slog of opposition.

Purnell's critics have already suggested that the timing of his announcement, the day before Brown unveils Labour's main election themes, was designed to inflict maximum damage on the Prime Minister.

But what seems more likely is that Purnell concluded that his growing intellectual curiosity was incompatible with his status as a Labour MP -- that, as Kant once put it: "The possession of power unavoidably spoils the free use of reason."

His plans beyond his current post at Demos are unclear, but it is likely that Labour's loss will be the think-tank world's gain.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.