James Purnell's exit splits opinion over mass ministerial resignations

The spate of recent resignations from Gordon Brown's Government has prompted a lively debate in media circles this week.

James Purnell: spoke to the media before the PM
James Purnell: spoke to the media before the PM

A senior lobby journalist told PRWeek he thought former work and pensions secretary James Purnell’s shock resignation was the best from a media relations perspective: ‘It was classic James: all about the media. It is pretty disgraceful not to tell the PM until after speaking to the media.

‘It was a devious move by him but it did have great ­impact. He did it totally on his own terms. The shock value made an impact. He got closest to getting Brown out.’

Purnell is believed to have passed his letter of resignation to a number of national media outlets on Thursday afternoon, before he spoke to the PM, with the proviso they kept quiet until 10pm. The news broke within minutes of his conversation with Brown, infu­riating the PM.

Open Road CEO Graham McMillan agreed that Purnell played his cards right. He said of the resignation: ‘It was effective. He acted completely alone. I don’t think even his special advisers knew what he was going to do. It was a real bombshell. He is saying he wants out now and that will stand him in good stead if there is a new leader or if Labour goes into opposition.’

But Luther Pendragon partner Mike Granatt was critical of this approach. He said: ‘Purnell’s letter obviously took days to write and fooled no-one. Landing like a brick in a muddy puddle, it made a big splash – and promptly sank without trace.’

Granatt said former Europe minister Caroline Flint had struck more of a blow, dubbing her resignation letter ‘delicious in the venom of her timing and language’.

But the lobby journalist slammed Flint’s effort as ‘tot-ally embarrassing’, adding: ‘I’m told she was asking broadcast journalists what she should do on the day before. The sisterhood doesn’t like her. She’s not liked by the civil ser-vice, as some ministers were.’

Westminster sources said Flint toned down her resignation letter on the advice of friends. One insider even claimed it originally contained words such as ‘devious’ and phrases such as ‘sexist pig’.

McMillan said: ‘They didn’t want her to come across as throwing her toys out of the pram – but they failed.’

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