Ken Purchase whose obituary is below, was the type of Labour MP which typified the party's commitment to the working class, born into a working class family, brought up on a working class estate, and before becoming an MP he worked as a Toolmaker. He was a son on the working class who never wanted to distance himself from his class. The parliamentary party was once full of such men and women, they were the backbone of the party. Unlike Ken a man of the left, they stretched across the political spectrum, from the left of the party to the social democratic right, the one certainty about all of them, they knew the values of their class warts and all.
They often, although not always represented the constituencies in which they were born and they were all the better MP's for that. Then came New Labour with its neoliberalism and managerialism and the party abandoned its core values, worse than that it gutted the party democracy to such an extent it became a hollow shell.
The Party centre decided who could and could not become an MP, working class candidates only very rarely made it on to the short list. The Middle classes, with a sprinkling of upper middle class candidates soon dominated the parliamentary party. For most of them the working classes are a foreign country, an homogeneous lump of ignorance and want who would be continuously satisfied with a few scraps flung from the table.
Ambitious young people whose life experiences were remote from those they represented, were parachuted by the leadership into mainly working class constituencies to become their masters voice. The Miliband brothers, Tristram Hunt, Stella Creasy, the Balls couple, the list became endless, what they all had in common was they talked like, walked like and thought like New Labour.
Just how far removed they are from the working class people they represented was demonstrated in 2015 when Ed Miliband happened to mention his home had two kitchens. To ridiculous to mention, maybe, but that he thought it was OK to mention it tells us a great deal about the world he moved in.
As Ken Purchase himself said these people had rendered the party intellectually bankrupt. Thus the one thing New Labour didn't want muddying their front lawn, was working class intellectuals. The statistics make grim reading, whereas 17% of Labour MP's went to public schools and 19% to selective schools, less than 5% come from a working class backgrounds and only 1% had done manual work before they became an MP.
If Jeremy Corbyn doesn't stop such class prejudice and privilege gerrymandering, within the next few years the LP will become a working class free zone.
Is it any wonder Ukip are hovering up working class votes in constituencies which were once solidly Labour?
If Labour Titans like Aneurin Bevan, Ernie Bevin, and Frank Cousins were around to day they would never have become local councillors let alone MP's and cabinet ministers.
A change has gotta come and come quickly!
Obituary: Ken Purchase, working class intellectual, MP, socialist, toolmaker, close associate of Robin Cook.
Ken Purchase, the former MP for Wolverhampton North East, who has died aged 77, was one of the last of what was once a widespread category of working-class Labour MPs who represented the area in which he was born, having secured election to parliament with an established experience in town-hall politics and a career working in local industry. He was tremendously proud of Wolverhampton.
Son of Albert, a die caster who had lost an eye in an industrial accident, and Rebecca, a cleaner, Ken was born into a household where “being a Tory was never on the agenda”. He grew up in an atmosphere where political views were stridently expressed by his father and elder sister, and he joined the Labour party aged 21. He started his education at Springfield secondary modern school, spent four years’ apprenticeship as a toolmaker and another 15 years working in the aerospace and car industries. He was a shop steward and works’ convenor for the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) but also took correspondence courses to qualify for a BA in social science at Wolverhampton Polytechnic (now Wolverhampton University). As he was by then married with a family, he could not afford to take up the offer of a scholarship at the London School of Economics, or at Ruskin College, Oxford.
He was elected to Wolverhampton council in 1970 and remained a member for 20 years. He was employed by the Telford development corporation, Walsall council housing department and then, for 10 years, until his election to the House of Commons in 1992, he pursued his lifelong interest in encouraging the development of industrial co-operatives as a business development adviser for the Black Country co-operative development agency.
Having succeeded the former Labour MP Renée Short as the party’s candidate for Wolverhampton NE before the 1987 election, Purchase lost the seat to the Conservative Maureen Hicks, despite a national swing to Labour, in a messy campaign dominated by a local row about the death of a black youth in police custody. He won it back for the party in 1992 as one of 15 Labour and Co-operative MPs.
In the Commons he used his position to promote the issues about which he cared profoundly, notably education, housing and employment. He was an unremittingly traditional leftwinger, a fierce critic of high defence expenditure, the hereditary membership of the House of Lords and the establishment of academy schools. When Labour won in 1997, he was appointed by Robin Cook as his parliamentary private secretary and resigned from the post with him in opposition to the Iraq war in 2003. He was a member of the select committee on trade and industry from 1993 to 1997 and of the foreign affairs committee from 2005 until his retirement in 2010.
He was a popular MP with his colleagues, a cheerful and jovial figure, often to be found in the corner of the Strangers’ bar with his friend and fellow Wolverhampton MP, Dennis Turner (afterwards Lord Bilston).
Purchase was a jazz enthusiast and a regular at the Trumpet, a jazz pub in Bilston. He was not an enthusiast for political correctness and once suggested that school teachers should be allowed “to biff kids back” if they were aggressive in the classroom. On another occasion, when Harriet Harman was standing in for Prime Minister’s Questions, with two women colleagues beside her, the MP Gisela Stuart commented: “It is good to see three good women on the frontbench.” Purchase called out from his seat: “I’d prefer to see three bad women.”
His later years in parliament were coloured by a regret at the course on which the Labour party had embarked. He believed that if Cook had lived he could have been the one member of the cabinet who would have had the authority to stand up to Gordon Brown as Tony Blair’s successor and save the Labour party from itself. This followed a deep disappointment in Blair’s leadership of the party, which he only expressed after announcing his intention to stand down.
In an interview he gave to the House magazine, he credited Blair and Peter Mandelson with successfully having improved Labour’s image in order to secure election victory but accused Blair of then jettisoning Labour’s core values and consequently rendering the party intellectually bankrupt. Purchase spoke of his despair at the pragmatic right-wing views which he believed the Labour leadership had stolen from the Conservatives and which failed to meet the needs of those he called “our people”. “It has been a disappointment to me that fewer and fewer people seem to have a real understanding of what the Labour party does, what it is for and what its real aims are,” he said.
He married Brenda (nee Sanders) in 1960. She survives him, with their two daughters, Samantha and Lisa.
• Kenneth Purchase, politician, born 8 January 1939; died 28 August 2016
By Julia Langdon
Obituary first published here