Purnell's exit splits opinion

Senior figures analyse former ministers' media tactics.

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

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, dub-bing 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.'


- Jacqui Smith, Ex-home secretary

Rumours surfaced last Tuesday afternoon, but Smith failed to make any formal announcement until the following morning. Westminster insiders are still unsure who was responsible for the leak.

- Hazel Blears, Ex-communities secretary

Blears' venomous resignation statement suggested Brown is out of touch with the British people. It was also timed to inflict maximum damage on the PM, just 90 minutes before Prime Minister's Questions and the day before the local and European elections.

- James Purnell, Ex-work & pensions secretary

Purnell phoned Gordon Brown on Thursday evening to inform him of his decision - within minutes of the news breaking. Key journalists had been tipped off about Purnell's resignation by rebel MPs beforehand on condition nothing went out before 10pm.

- Tom Watson, Ex-minister for digital engagement

Rumours Watson would stand down emerged last week. He publicly confirmed his resignation on Twitter last Friday with a link to his resignation letter that heaped praise on Brown.

- Caroline Flint, Ex-Europe minister

Flint resigned on Friday afternoon by sending a scathing letter to the Prime Minister in which she complained of being treated like 'female window dressing'. It came just one day after she told the media she was 'proud to be part of Gordon Brown's government'.

- Jane Kennedy, Ex-farming and environment minister

Kennedy stood down on Monday after being asked to pledge her loyalty to the Prime Minister. She used her resignation statement to attack 'smears' by Downing Street.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in