Purnell plays defeat card to prompt Labour unity

James Purnell sought to unify Labour supporters in his speech to conference this afternoon by presenting them with the consequences of defeat at the next election.

The work and pensions secretary reminded party supporters of the “ghosts” of past defeats and the “bitter frustration” of being out of government.

Mr Purnell said the party had changed because of its failures and that, 11 years after the party entered government, the Tories have begun saying “they agree with us”.

“It opens the door to us winning the next election,” he said.

“If the country does want progress, as I believe it does, then people should vote for the only progressive party in British politics. They should vote Labour. After all, why vote for an imitation when you can vote for the real thing?”

As Mr Purnell began to lay out his vision of “how we win” sceptics in the audience might have begun thinking he was articulating a leadership challenge.

But he quickly rectified his concerns with a quick comment about embattled prime minister Gordon Brown.

“I judge a man by the things he believes in,” he said. “And Gordon’s unwavering commitment to social justice and the eradication of poverty in good times and bad marks out of the character of our leader.”

Mr Purnell was scathing in his assessment of Tory leader David Cameron, who he said “doesn’t have a single bone of conviction in his body”.

He accused the Conservatives of creating a “cartoon version of politics” and suggested the opposition party were hypocritical on social responsibility.

“They conjure up a phantom problem and then offer a mirage as a solution,” he continued.

“On policy positioning, they are clever. On policy, they are an absolute shambles. It is policy that decides if the future of the country is progressive or conservative.”