If further proof were needed of Ed Miliband’s ability to surprise, here it is. Labour Uncut has just revealed that Miliband asked James Purnell, still widely viewed as a “Blairite”, to become his chief of staff. Purnell turned down the job, but, like the appointment of Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor, Miliband’s offer demonstrates his willingness to reach out to his brother’s supporters.
The fact that Purnell was approached has triggered speculation that he may be contemplating a return to Westminster politics. Labour Uncut quotes one MP as saying: “He’s definitely out and about. He’s in the Commons, doing the circuit”.
After a period in which he has focused on his work at the ippr, the former Labour MP re-emerged this week with a Times piece (£) praising Iain Duncan Smith’s universal credit as a “good reform” and revealing that he proposed a version of the scheme to Gordon Brown.
It’s not hard to see why Miliband attempted to lure Purnell back. In his closing years in Parliament he emerged as one of Labour’s brightest and best thinkers and offered a thoughtful account of the limits of the Third Way. His unlikely alliance with Jon Cruddas produced some of the most innovative thinking on the post-crisis relationship between the state and the economy.
Purnell desire to move on from the world of Westminster, with its factions, its cliques and its hostile briefings, was understandable. But there is no doubt that he still has a big contribution to make.