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James Mark Dakin Purnell (born 2 March 1970) is a British Labour politician, who has been the Member of Parliament for Stalybridge and Hydemarker since 2001, and previously served in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; he resigned from the Government on 4 June 2009, criticising the leadership of Gordon Brown.

Early life

Born in the City of Londonmarker, he received most of his education in France before returning to study for his A Levels at the Royal Grammar School, Guildfordmarker and then taking a first in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Balliol Collegemarker, Oxfordmarker.

As a student he worked in the summer holidays as a researcher to Tony Blair from 1989 to 1992. After graduating he worked as a research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research before moving to the BBC to become Head of Corporate Planning. In 1997 Purnell returned to work as a special advisor at Number 10marker until 2001. He also served as a board member of the Young Vicmarker theatre.

Member of Parliament

Purnell was selected for the seat of Stalybridge and Hyde in 2001, and won the seat in that year's general election with a majority of 8,859. As a Labour Member of Parliament, he was a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee in the House of Commons 2001-03, the Chair of the All Party Group on Private Equity and Venture Capital 2002-03, and the Chair of Labour Friends of Israel 2002-04.

In government

In 2003 Purnell became Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Ruth Kelly in the Cabinet Officemarker, and in December 2004 he joined the Government as a Whip in the government reshuffle following the resignation of David Blunkett.

After Labour's General Election success in 2005, he was appointed to the position of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Creative Industries and Tourism in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport where he was in charge of putting through the legislation that liberalised England and Wales' alcohol licensing laws and modernized tax breaks for the film industry. In May 2006 he was promoted to be Minister of State for Pensions in the Department for Work and Pensions, replacing Stephen Timms.

In 2007 he was named Consumer Champion Of The Year by Which? magazine for his work on pensions. Which? cited his "commitment to consumers in the development of the national pensions saving scheme", particularly for listening to stakeholders and for his contributions to the personal accounts for low and middle earners.

In June 2007, he entered the Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; he was its youngest member. He was promoted to Work and Pensions Secretary after the resignation of Peter Hain on 24 January 2008.

Faked photograph

In September 2007, a photograph of James Purnell was faked and released by the press office at Tameside General Hospitalmarker as part of a press release for the Tameside Hospital Private Finance Initiative (PFI) rebuilding deal. The Tameside Trust claimed that Purnell agreed to the amalgamation of the two photographs, as he was late for the original photo call, but Purnell denied this. Another Labour MP, Tom Levitt, present for the photoshoot stated that he and other Labour MPs deliberately left a gap for Purnell when the original photograph was taken, knowing that Purnell's image would be superimposed onto their photograph.

Interest on crisis loans proposal

In December 2008, Purnell proposed charging interest on crisis loans to the unemployed and pensioners made by the Department of Work and Pensions, which are currently interest-free, at a rate of up to 26.8 per cent per annum. This was met with great hostility and was blocked by the intervention of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Expenses scandal

In 2009, Purnell was one of many MPs involved in a political scandal following the disclosure of expenses of Members of the United Kingdom Parliament. Purnell told the parliamentary authorities that his main home was in Manchester and claimed the "second home" allowance for his flat in London. In October 2004, Purnell sold his London flat but told HM Revenue and Customs it was his "principal home", not his "second home". A spokesman on behalf of Purnell said that "Any allegation that James avoided capital gains tax is completely untrue. When he bought his constituency home, the sale of his London flat fell through, but it was sold within the period that HMRC continue to treat it as not being liable for CGT ... This would have been true for any taxpayer – there was no special treatment". Also in 2004 Purnell claimed £395 for an accountant's bill which included "tax advice provided in October 2004 regarding sale of flat".

Whilst renting a flat between 2004 and 2006 Purnell claimed £100 a month for cleaning expenses and £586 for repairs. At the end of the lease the landlord kept the £2,520 deposit, claiming the flat to have been in a poor state. A spokesman for Purnell stated: "James felt frustrated that the landlord refused to return the deposit. He initially pursued the matter through legal channels but let it rest as the costs of fighting it further would far outweigh recouping the deposit". Allegation were made by a Sunday newspaper that Purnell claimed more than £1,500 pounds a month rent for the flat although he was half of the £1,820 a month rent and his fiancée was paying the rest. A spokesman for Purnell said "Despite being entitled to claim in full for the whole rental cost incurred by him and his partner, James claimed less than the amount he himself spent. The rules of the House of Commons make it clear that an MP is entitled to be reimbursed for the rent or mortgage paid by the MP and their partner. Nevertheless, James went out of his way to ensure overall he claimed less for accommodation than he himself paid". Purnell also claimed £247 for 3,000 fridge magnets.

Resignation from Cabinet

On 4 June 2009 Purnell announced his resignation from the Cabinet, calling upon Gordon Brown to resign as Prime Minister. His resignation came only days after the resignations of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith whose expenses had also caused controversy and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears who had also avoided paying capital gains tax on her property, and minutes after the end of the local and European elections.

His letter to the Prime Minister, which was also sent to a number of newspapers as well, read:


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