What Purnell Said

There’s been a lot of debate about the James Purnell film on Newsnight last week. Often the debate has misunderstood what Purnell said. I think it’s worth going back and looking at the film again and being clear about his view.

Newsnight Click to view

His opening line is “When I was a cabinet minister we spent more money on welfare because we wanted to reduce poverty. It was one of the things that everybody in the Labour govt agreed about. But when it came to the last election, one of the reasons that we lost is that traditional Labour supporters no longer backed the welfare state.”

In the film, Purnell demonstrates that the welfare state created by Beveridge has changed so much that it no longer has the love of the white working class. By contrasting this with the love of the NHS, he demonstrates that this is not a dislike of taxation, but a particular dislike of this one institution.

He draws our attention to the change in the Welfare State since 1945. In its inception, we would contribute in return for insurance against hard times, but now our money is given away to those who don’t work and often haven’t contributed, and we see little or no return for our own contributions; the stingy state pension being a good example. Purnell wants to get back to the Beveridge idea of benefit in return for contribution.

He suggests a job guarantee for those on benefits for more than a year, with an end to Job Seekers Allowance, if they don’t take it. Apparently it works perfectly well in other countries.

He accepts that change would be expensive and suggests we could pay for this by ending Higher Rate Tax Relief on pension contributions. This would save a whopping £7b a year. The reason this Tax Relief was introduced was to encourage people to save, however it is commonly agreed that people who earn £100k a year would chose to save regardless of the tax advantage. So it is a break for the rich, with no advantage for the country. In my view it makes perfect sense to restrict this relief to the Standard Rate of tax.

Purnell also suggests an end to the Free Travel Card for pensioners, the free TV License, and possibly changes to Child Benefit. This is what fired up the indignation of Labour bloggers and I tend to agree. I worked on Oona King’s mayoral campaign when she made a similar suggestion and gave Ken’s side a stick to beat her with. We found ourselves issuing all kinds of clarifications and denials when we should have been campaigning.

The fact is that the free bus pass is more than just a travel arrangement. A few times I’ve had elderly friends tell me, “I got my free bus pass in the post today”. Everyone knows what this mean. There is no need to say, “I am now 65. I am a pensioner”. There’s something about the rights of passage into the autumn years that is marked by this arrangement. No one likes to hit 65 years of age, but the receipt of a gift from the state seems not only to act as a milestone in a person’s life, but provides an opportunity for positive philosophy. For this reason, I’d advise against removing this benefit.

In his film, Purnell opens up the analysis to the wider view of the white working class of the Labour Party and I found myself once again agreeing with something. For years, I’ve been getting doorstep hostility from the white working class, who would say, “What do you ever do for us?” or “You only represent them!” meaning the Bangladeshis. I’ve never disputed this; I always thought they had a good point, and have written about this on Labour List. http://www.labourlist.org/labour-list-dan-mccurry-confronting-racism In his talk with Peter Kellner, Purnell discovers that it’s much wider than immigrants. Kellner tells him that natural Labour voters came to think that Labour reflected “special groups. Immigrants, the poorest, single mothers, public sector workers. It was not seen as a party for the generality of the white working class Britain”.

And this is why his film was so important. The naffness of Blue Labour has given way to a substantial and tangible debate. The bloggers who dwell on the detail to condemn the whole are mistaken. According to Kellner, it’s not the electorate who got it wrong, it was the Labour Party.

8 Responses to What Purnell Said

  1. Phil C. says:

    Dan,
    on the subject of law and order, I am willing to respect and trust your wisdom, judgement and knowledge.

    On the subject of welfare, I am not prepared for one moment to accept anything at all from James Purnell. I am certainly not going to accept the propaganda churned out in his opening paragraph. Either Purnell deceives himself or he seeks to deceive others (btw, he’s also claimed recently to be centre left, which is frankly a ridiculous claim).

    Having read your article carefully, I am trying to understand exactly what you’re saying. If you’re taking the view that the Labour Party has to do quite some work in regaining the trust of the great number of ordinary working people as a whole, then I agree with you; if you’re thinking that Purnell and his ideas can play a role, then I would have to disagree emphatically and say that, as a major part of the problem, Purnell cannot be a part of the solution.

    New Labour spent years, from 2001 onwards, seeking to turn ordinary people against welfare claimants. The “welfare to work” agenda involved the Labour Govt labelling welfare claimants as “scroungers” and “work shy”. It was a relentless, corrosive and ‘successful’ campaign to shift public opinion further to the right on welfare (which, btw, adds extra insult to the Blairite claim that Labour lost the last Election because it was too far to the left and not hard enough on welfare). The Tories are the grateful beneficiaries as they have been able to shift further to the right, without appearing unreasonably draconian. Disabled people will not forget or forgive easily.

    I read blogs and articles in the disability online community, and I am very aware of the level of loathing there is against James Purnell and David Freud over ESA and the WCA (even more than Duncan Smith & Grayling over DLA). Electorally this translates into millions of potential votes; disabled and/or chronically-ill people, their family, their friends, anyone who comes into contact with them and hears what they have to say, and any currently able-bodied & healthy persons who can look ahead and not take it for granted that they will sail through to retirement without hitting a health problem or two along the way.

    For the best of reasons, not just electoral reasons, the Labour Party has to develop a whole new way of articulating support for and belief in a universal welfare state.
    To even begin to do this, the Labour Party will have to find and appoint a spokesman who actually believes in the welfare state. Although I don’t know the first thing about him, Chris Williamson MP had an article published on LabourList quite recently which was frankly the best I’ve heard any Labour person speak on welfare in a decade; but maybe there are better candidates of whom I don’t know. It’s very sad that hardly any MP has said anything slightly left of centre or even centre in the past 10 years. There is a lot of undoing to be done, in terms of how Labour has talked to its supporters and shaped opinion rightwards on welfare.

    BUT it should still be possible to sell to voters the notion of a decent humane welfare state – more than a mere safety net for the “deserving poor” only, which would degenerate to third-rate and fifth-rate over a period of time – which would be there for them if and when they ever need it, now or in the future.
    I don’t like and would resist any talk of contributions, as this avenue is fraught with dangers and would very likely hasten the demise of the welfare state. The contributions side of things should take care of itself ‘naturally’ if and when a govt actually tackles the problem of high levels of unemployment (which the Tories won’t, of course). It isn’t that the welfare state is unsustainable; the real problem is the mass unemployment which was created after 1979, and the lack of balance in the economy as successive govts have encouraged the financial sector and the services sector but failed to help manufacturing. btw, Ed Miliband recognises this economic imbalance, and mentioned it in May in a speech in Oslo to European social democrats.

    Sorry that this reply is so long, but I hope that my thoughts are of some help or interest.

    Phil C.

  2. Phil C. says:

    Dan,
    on the subject of law and order, I am willing to respect and trust your wisdom, judgement and knowledge.

    On the subject of welfare, I am not prepared for one moment to accept anything at all from James Purnell. I am certainly not going to accept the propaganda churned out in his opening paragraph. Either Purnell deceives himself or he seeks to deceive others (btw, he’s also claimed recently to be centre left, which is frankly a ridiculous claim).

    Having read your article carefully, I am trying to understand exactly what you’re saying. If you’re taking the view that the Labour Party has to do quite some work in regaining the trust of the great number of ordinary working people as a whole, then I agree with you; if you’re thinking that Purnell and his ideas can play a role, then I would have to disagree emphatically and say that, as a major part of the problem, Purnell cannot be a part of the solution.

    New Labour spent years, from 2001 onwards, seeking to turn ordinary people against welfare claimants. The “welfare to work” agenda involved the Labour Govt labelling welfare claimants as “scroungers” and “work shy”. It was a relentless, corrosive and ‘successful’ campaign to shift public opinion further to the right on welfare (which, btw, adds extra insult to the Blairite claim that Labour lost the last Election because it was too far to the left and not hard enough on welfare). The Tories are the grateful beneficiaries as they have been able to shift further to the right, without appearing unreasonably draconian. Disabled people will not forget or forgive easily.

    I read blogs and articles in the disability online community, and I am very aware of the level of loathing there is against James Purnell and David Freud over ESA and the WCA (even more than Duncan Smith & Grayling over DLA). Electorally this translates into millions of potential votes; disabled and/or chronically-ill people, their family, their friends, anyone who comes into contact with them and hears what they have to say, and any currently able-bodied & healthy persons who can look ahead and not take it for granted that they will sail through to retirement without hitting a health problem or two along the way.

    For the best of reasons, not just electoral reasons, the Labour Party has to develop a whole new way of articulating support for and belief in a universal welfare state.
    To even begin to do this, the Labour Party will have to find and appoint a spokesman who actually believes in the welfare state. Although I don’t know the first thing about him, Chris Williamson MP had an article published on LabourList quite recently which was frankly the best I’ve heard any Labour person speak on welfare in a decade; but maybe there are better candidates of whom I don’t know. It’s very sad that hardly any MP has said anything slightly left of centre or even centre in the past 10 years. There is a lot of undoing to be done, in terms of how Labour has talked to its supporters and shaped opinion rightwards on welfare.

    BUT it should still be possible to sell to voters the notion of a decent humane welfare state – more than a mere safety net for the “deserving poor” only, which would degenerate to third-rate and fifth-rate over a period of time – which would be there for them if and when they ever need it, now or in the future.
    I don’t like and would resist any talk of contributions, as this avenue is fraught with dangers and would very likely hasten the demise of the welfare state. The contributions side of things should take care of itself ‘naturally’ if and when a govt actually tackles the problem of high levels of unemployment (which the Tories won’t, of course). It isn’t that the welfare state is unsustainable; the real problem is the mass unemployment which was created after 1979, and the lack of balance in the economy as successive govts have encouraged the financial sector and the services sector but failed to help manufacturing. btw, Ed Miliband recognises this economic imbalance, and mentioned it in May in a speech in Oslo to European social democrats.

    Sorry that this reply is so long, but I hope that my thoughts are of some help or interest.

    Phil C.

  3. dan says:

    He wasn’t talking about disability, other than the fact that the disabled probably get less due to the pot spread so widely. What people are concerned with is the dependency culture of those who are able to work.

  4. dan says:

    He wasn’t talking about disability, other than the fact that the disabled probably get less due to the pot spread so widely. What people are concerned with is the dependency culture of those who are able to work.

  5. Phil C. says:

    Hello again, Dan,
    Sorry if I didn’t express my view clearly enough. As briefly as possible, my personal take on the welfare scandal is as follows :

    the talk of a “dependency culture” is rhetoric, a major falsehood based on a minor truth, and part of the campaign against the welfare state which the right-wing of the Labour Party used from 2001 onwards to turn the ordinary public against the welfare state.
    To Blair, Purnell and others on the right wing of the party, the welfare state did not fit with their shiny New Labour project; it was of socialism, and it had to be downsized and marginalised. They sought to make it unpopular; they sought to focus attention on the minority who play the system, and to avoid the spotlight going on the majority of genuine claimants; they exaggerated the level of fraud and helped to create a myth that fraud is easy-to-do and rife (seemingly, now, every man and his dog have an anecdote about a “scrounger” neighbour as if hordes of people actively choose to live on benefits). The tabloids were happy to go along with this.
    The New Labour right brought in privatisation where possible, such as awarding lucrative contracts to companies like Atos and A4E to, erm, ‘help people back into work’… when those very people were mostly regarded by employers as unemployable (and there weren’t really the jobs, anyway). The shortage of jobs and the prejudice of employers are real parts of the problem, in trapping people on benefits for years or for the rest of their life. Employers routinely reject job applications by post code; e.g. there’s one post code in Birmingham where 97% of residents are on out-of-work benefits. Surely, they don’t all choose to be unemployed, but they are stuck where they are by their circumstances? Calling them “work shy” is a lazy and irresponsible option for a govt. Some people are being punished for being jobless – on top of being jobless and poor. In this context, the apparently innocuous words, “those who can work, should work”, take on a more sinister aspect.

    The Tories have gleefully seized the opportunity to extend the drive against the welfare state, and Cameron & Duncan Smith have even said they’re only taking on what Tony Blair wanted to do but didn’t dare. The Tories talk of a “culture of entitlement”, to discredit the welfare state and minimise opposition to its dismantling.
    The DWP feeds misinformation to its chosen newspapers : Mail, Express and Telegraph.
    People are valued only if they’re “economically active”.
    When the actions are studied, it’s pretty obvious the real targets are the 2 million+ claimants who are disabled or chronically-ill – because they’re the bulk of the disability/sickness bill – but all the manipulative hype is about the “work shy” “cheats” who “choose” a cushy “lifestyle” on disability benefits.

    Disabled and chronically-ill people are being stigmatised and scapegoated, and impoverished, for an ideological aim of downsizing the welfare state (an aim shared by the New Labour right wing and the Conservatives).
    Purnell has his own reasons for falsely alleging that Labour got it wrong on welfare and this lost the Labour Party the 2010 Election. The grim reality is that New Labour manipulated public opinion against the welfare state, for years. The strategy was to shift public opinion rightwards, against the welfare state, and then shift the whole party rightwards to align with the (new) public opinion. Purnell doesn’t believe in the welfare state, or socialism, and seems to have a mission to undermine it still.
    Accordingly, Purnell truly is despised within the disability community – one blogger has described him as pernicious.

    I’m not an insider, and don’t know or have any evidence, but I would guess that there was some level of opposition to the anti-welfare state guff within Cabinet from the likes of Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, but the Blair-Purnell ‘hard right’ of the party prevailed.
    So, New Labour was the party of the National Minimum Wage and Tax Credits … while a section on the right, which included Prime Minister Blair, sought to go down a different route to the future.

  6. Phil C. says:

    Hello again, Dan,
    Sorry if I didn’t express my view clearly enough. As briefly as possible, my personal take on the welfare scandal is as follows :

    the talk of a “dependency culture” is rhetoric, a major falsehood based on a minor truth, and part of the campaign against the welfare state which the right-wing of the Labour Party used from 2001 onwards to turn the ordinary public against the welfare state.
    To Blair, Purnell and others on the right wing of the party, the welfare state did not fit with their shiny New Labour project; it was of socialism, and it had to be downsized and marginalised. They sought to make it unpopular; they sought to focus attention on the minority who play the system, and to avoid the spotlight going on the majority of genuine claimants; they exaggerated the level of fraud and helped to create a myth that fraud is easy-to-do and rife (seemingly, now, every man and his dog have an anecdote about a “scrounger” neighbour as if hordes of people actively choose to live on benefits). The tabloids were happy to go along with this.
    The New Labour right brought in privatisation where possible, such as awarding lucrative contracts to companies like Atos and A4E to, erm, ‘help people back into work’… when those very people were mostly regarded by employers as unemployable (and there weren’t really the jobs, anyway). The shortage of jobs and the prejudice of employers are real parts of the problem, in trapping people on benefits for years or for the rest of their life. Employers routinely reject job applications by post code; e.g. there’s one post code in Birmingham where 97% of residents are on out-of-work benefits. Surely, they don’t all choose to be unemployed, but they are stuck where they are by their circumstances? Calling them “work shy” is a lazy and irresponsible option for a govt. Some people are being punished for being jobless – on top of being jobless and poor. In this context, the apparently innocuous words, “those who can work, should work”, take on a more sinister aspect.

    The Tories have gleefully seized the opportunity to extend the drive against the welfare state, and Cameron & Duncan Smith have even said they’re only taking on what Tony Blair wanted to do but didn’t dare. The Tories talk of a “culture of entitlement”, to discredit the welfare state and minimise opposition to its dismantling.
    The DWP feeds misinformation to its chosen newspapers : Mail, Express and Telegraph.
    People are valued only if they’re “economically active”.
    When the actions are studied, it’s pretty obvious the real targets are the 2 million+ claimants who are disabled or chronically-ill – because they’re the bulk of the disability/sickness bill – but all the manipulative hype is about the “work shy” “cheats” who “choose” a cushy “lifestyle” on disability benefits.

    Disabled and chronically-ill people are being stigmatised and scapegoated, and impoverished, for an ideological aim of downsizing the welfare state (an aim shared by the New Labour right wing and the Conservatives).
    Purnell has his own reasons for falsely alleging that Labour got it wrong on welfare and this lost the Labour Party the 2010 Election. The grim reality is that New Labour manipulated public opinion against the welfare state, for years. The strategy was to shift public opinion rightwards, against the welfare state, and then shift the whole party rightwards to align with the (new) public opinion. Purnell doesn’t believe in the welfare state, or socialism, and seems to have a mission to undermine it still.
    Accordingly, Purnell truly is despised within the disability community – one blogger has described him as pernicious.

    I’m not an insider, and don’t know or have any evidence, but I would guess that there was some level of opposition to the anti-welfare state guff within Cabinet from the likes of Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, but the Blair-Purnell ‘hard right’ of the party prevailed.
    So, New Labour was the party of the National Minimum Wage and Tax Credits … while a section on the right, which included Prime Minister Blair, sought to go down a different route to the future.

  7. Robert the crip says:

    I’m paraplegic after an accident at work, now then during New labour as a Labour party member I was asked to do some talking on disability, few words on Radio, and then a Few TV appearances until I found out everyone else was being paid to speak and I was doing it for free. I still get asked by the BBC to give my views but sadly not unless they pay me the same as everyone else.

    Now then last month after twenty years of being disabled I was asked to have a medical to check to see if my broken back and my lesion had got better, sadly it has not.

    I spoke to Purnell a few times and the bloke is well spaced out, he would be very easy bloke to lead as we can see with his welfare reforms, of course they are not his, they are Freuds. He told me the problem with welfare it was abused in the Thatcher period and that people were living a god life on benefits. I said what £96 a week yes and DLA, which was a wasted benefit according to him.

    I then did a bit on a News Program in Wales called Week in Week out in which they looked at benefits scroungers, they came to me with an America kick boxing, champion of getting (his words) creeps back to work.

    He went out to find me a job spent the day looking and found me a Job in an Asian restaurant working ten hours for £10 a day, he came back to me with the BBC to tell me I was ok he found me a job, I asked did you tell them I was in a wheelchair and could not go up the four steps, he said you people always find problems, I said another problem was the £10 cash in hand, it’s illegal he said others were working for that, the place was raided two weeks later and closed.

    The problem is not working because I would love to go to work, but I was told to give up all my medication, not going to happen otherwise I get a fit, pain killers include Morphine injection from my now trained wife. She also placed the catheter into my bladder and helps change my nappy when I have a bowel movement.

    Yes I can see Tesco and Asda doing that.

    Last year my Job Center stated it was a waste of time coming down and felt my disability would be to much for employers.

    I have been told again by a doctor for the the DWP I’m fit to work.

    happy times when you pick on those who have the hardest time getting people to believe them.

    But if Purnell is to the left them sadly I’m a commie

  8. Robert the crip says:

    I’m paraplegic after an accident at work, now then during New labour as a Labour party member I was asked to do some talking on disability, few words on Radio, and then a Few TV appearances until I found out everyone else was being paid to speak and I was doing it for free. I still get asked by the BBC to give my views but sadly not unless they pay me the same as everyone else.

    Now then last month after twenty years of being disabled I was asked to have a medical to check to see if my broken back and my lesion had got better, sadly it has not.

    I spoke to Purnell a few times and the bloke is well spaced out, he would be very easy bloke to lead as we can see with his welfare reforms, of course they are not his, they are Freuds. He told me the problem with welfare it was abused in the Thatcher period and that people were living a god life on benefits. I said what £96 a week yes and DLA, which was a wasted benefit according to him.

    I then did a bit on a News Program in Wales called Week in Week out in which they looked at benefits scroungers, they came to me with an America kick boxing, champion of getting (his words) creeps back to work.

    He went out to find me a job spent the day looking and found me a Job in an Asian restaurant working ten hours for £10 a day, he came back to me with the BBC to tell me I was ok he found me a job, I asked did you tell them I was in a wheelchair and could not go up the four steps, he said you people always find problems, I said another problem was the £10 cash in hand, it’s illegal he said others were working for that, the place was raided two weeks later and closed.

    The problem is not working because I would love to go to work, but I was told to give up all my medication, not going to happen otherwise I get a fit, pain killers include Morphine injection from my now trained wife. She also placed the catheter into my bladder and helps change my nappy when I have a bowel movement.

    Yes I can see Tesco and Asda doing that.

    Last year my Job Center stated it was a waste of time coming down and felt my disability would be to much for employers.

    I have been told again by a doctor for the the DWP I’m fit to work.

    happy times when you pick on those who have the hardest time getting people to believe them.

    But if Purnell is to the left them sadly I’m a commie

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