Surrender and cowardice on welfare.
At some point during the meeting, I got tired of the equivocation. So I decided to tell him the truth and see if I couldn't make him listen. Very quietly, and mindful of how ridiculous I might sound, I said* -
"Look, James. You know and I know that the damage has already been done. There are hundreds of thousands of young people and people with disabilities out there whose lives have been entirely scuppered by a batting team of the recession and your damn stupid benefit policies. Sure, you're trying to guarantee jobs for one in ten of them now - but that's not enough, and we both know that. I'm not here to shout at you or to tell you how angry I am with you, and I'm not here to point out the massive hypocrisy in your personal behaviour over the expenses scandal -there wouldn't be a lot of point in that. I'm here to ask you, please, to listen.
"People are hurting, right now; people like my partner and my former housemates are in desperate situations and they are hurting. You're a highly ambitious, brilliant politician. There's not a small chance that by the time you're leader of the Labour Party or Prime Minister of Britain [note: neither Purnell nor his aide moved to correct me at this point] we will still be hurting, still be desperate, and some of us might still be unemployed. I want you to remember, please, that you owe us a voice. I want you to remember that our votes count, too, and that we are people just as much as people who are lucky enough to be employed. It's too late for some of us now; but we're good, bright young men and women who just want to earn our way, and our votes count as much as anyone's. So when you're powerful again, please remember us, and remember that you owe us. And that's all I have to say."
At which point, Purnell said, "Thank you. That seems like a good point on which to end the meeting".
It's probably instructive that it's the likes of Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice that are now making the running when it comes to welfare reform, such has been the intellectual cowardice and surrender shown by those on the left. Smith's report is undoubtedly wrong-headed and hardly practical with its suggestion that you can somehow turn 51 benefits into just two, but it genuinely does seem to believe in help without dangling a tiny carrot while also wielding a dirty great big stick. We've all laughed at the Conservatives pretending that they're the "new progressives", a term which is so devalued to be worthless in any case, but wouldn't it be the biggest irony of all if actually turned out to be true?