Work and pensions secretary James Purnell has quit the government and told prime minister Gordon Brown to stand down to save the Labour Party.
Brown was informed of Purnell’s decision in a letter late last night, delivered just before the polling closed for the European and local elections. In the letter, Purnell told Brown to leave his post as prime minister to give Labour a “fighting chance of winning”.
Purnell’s resignation comes just days after high-profile cabinet ministers home secretary Jacqui Smith and communities secretary Hazel Blears each resigned, although it is believed they did so largely because of the expenses scandal.
Purnell is the first cabinet minister to publicly declare he was leaving simply because he had no faith in Brown to lead the Party.
In his letter, he said to Brown: “I owe it to our Party to say what I believe no matter how hard that may be. I now believe your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less likely.”
Purnell’s resignation came as a complete surprise to Downing Street, who originally denied to journalists that it had happened.
It added fuel to the fire of a backbenchers’ email plot to oust plan, which has at least 50 signatures. The shock resignation overshadows Brown’s reshuffle plans, expected to be announced within days.
Purnell said he was not standing for leadership of the party.