Thursday, 21 February 2013

Tory Boy James Purnell, lands plumb job with 'Aunty'!

Last week the BBC announced that James Purnell, the former Labour Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has been appointed as director of strategy and digital on a salary of £295,000. This is not the first time that Purnell has worked for the BBC. Before entering frontline politics, he worked as head of corporate planning for the corporation between 1995-97.

Although once tipped as a future Labour Prime Minister, Purnell was remarkably gaffe prone. He often lacked political judgement and seemed to like controversy. One two separate occasions he lost both his ministerial red box as well as his wallet. He resigned from the government in June 2009 after criticising Gordon Brown's leadership and after trying to precipitate a revolt, against his leadership, by disgruntled Blairites. In 2010, just before the general election, he announced that he was standing down as the MP for the constituency of Stalybridge and Hyde, a seat that he'd inherited in 2001, from Tom Pendry (Lab) which had a 14,000 majority. He left his successor, Jonathan Reynolds (Lab), defending a marginal with a 2,744 majority.

As the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (2006-07), he was responsible for introducing both modern-day slavery to Britain with his work-for-your-dole schemes and also the discredited Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), with its stricter work capability assessments. He also signed off a proposal to charge benefit claimants 27.8 % APR on a social fund loan which had been interest free. At the time, Purnell said that it would help the poor to budget. The proposal failed to get adopted because of cross-party opposition to it in Parliament.

The Unite sponsored MP, also became embroiled in the parliamentary expenses scandal. It was revealed in the press that while drawing a ministerial salary of over £144,000, Purnell had been claiming the maximum food allowance of £400 p.m. He also claimed from the taxpayer, expenses for flowers, fridge magnets, books, camera equipment, rates, rent, and advice from tax advisers. He also avoided paying capital gains tax by switching homes.

Since leaving Parliament, Purnell has been employed as a senior adviser with the Boston Consulting Group and he's the Chairman of the Trustees for Public Policy Research. In 2011, the unmarried former MP,  applied for, but failed to get, the job  as Chairman of  Save the Children UK.

Some people have criticised the BBC and the incoming director general, Tony Hall, for appointing Purnell in what they see as a politically contrived appointment. Although some would argue that Purnell has been a political failure, there is no doubt, that he continues to retain influential political friends and it is this, which makes Purnell, marketable. No doubt the BBC, are also betting that the next government will be a Labour one.

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