Thursday, July 31, 2008

The next Prime Minister: James Purnell

If David Miliband really wanted to be the next Prime Minister, the last thing he would do would be to raise his profile and the heckles of others in the way he's done in the last few days. I mean, it's not as if he isn't an obvious candidate anyway. Yet even if he'd needed to raise his profile, he couldn't have done it in a more damaging way than to be seen as the one wielding the knife. For a man as clever and experienced in the machinations of backroom politics as he, the only conclusion can be that he simply doesn't want the job. But if that were all then he could just say so. What's interesting is the way he's gone about not getting the job. A suicide mission that one can only conclude is aimed at taking the heat for someone else. In short, he is a stalking horse.

So who is that other candidate? Step forward James Purnell, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Miliband's closest friend in the Cabinet and fellow Arsenal fan. Unlike Miliband and any of his fellow ministers, he's got what both Blair and Cameron have in spades: the ability not to seem like a politician. As for the leadership, he has so far played it immaculately. Assiduous in keeping a low profile and then when his name was mooted recently 'friends of his' were quoted as saying that he would 'not stand against' Miliband. But note the careful wording. This does not rule out standing if Miliband didn't throw his hat into the ring. Whilst the others have been puffing up their egos, James Purnell has been quietly positioning himself as the only one who can take on David Cameron on his own turf. We've seen this both in his recent social security proposals and also a speech in which he dissected the Tories' success.

The odds on James Purnell are currently around 7-1. They were probably similar for Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron at the same stage of their own leadership campaigns. So. watch this space. Purnell for Prime Minister and Miliband for Chancellor.

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