On the junction of Corporation Street and Market Street in Hyde, a small town eight miles east of Manchester, a steel statue is beginning to rust. It depicts a boy, with one hand grasping a broken chain from which he has freed himself, and with the other clutching an angel bearing the torch of freedom. A banner linking the two reads "Chartists of Hyde", referring to the liberation struggle of 1838-48.
This is Labour country – and Purnell country specifically. The commuter town is part of the Stalybridge and Hyde constituency whose Member of Parliament is the former Work and Pensions Secretary, a man whose resignation on Thursday evening sent shockwaves, not just through 10 Downing Street, but Labour grassroots as well. He defends a majority of 8,348 here, having secured 49.7 per cent of the vote in 2005.
But if Mr Purnell thought his resignation would help rebuild trust between Hyde and Labour, he was mistaken. Yesterday many in the politically astute former mill town thought he was self-serving and out of touch. "I think he should have stuck with dinner parties in Islington," said Desmond Napier, a decorator, referring to Mr Purnell's former career as a councillor in the north London and quintessentially New Labour borough.
"It was a completely reckless thing to do. You couldn't get a better example of an MP putting himself before the party," added Susan Redfearn, who works in a local bank. "If he'd been thinking of the people here, rather than his career, he wouldn't have knifed [Brown]".
Mr Purnell's reputation in Hyde had already been damaged by the saga over MPs expenses. Many shopping in the town centre were aware that he'd been embroiled: "We're calling him the fridge magnet king," said Anna Timms a reference several people made. "Three thousand fridge magnets, he charged us for, with our own cash!" said one.
Among the Brazilian furs and Arabian carpets in the market, there was a combination of residual loyalty to Labour, and anger at the apparently limited choice on offer at the ballot box.
"There's mixed types here, but not many Tories," said Linda Price, a mother of two. "A lot of us who've voted Labour all our lives swore we'd never vote Tory after Maggie [Thatcher]. But now it just looks like they're all the same, with their snouts in the trough."
That last phrase was progenitor to the BNP slogan for these elections: Punish the Pigs. Support for fringe parties seemed limited, and where it exists is a protest vote rather than a ringing endorsement. "Nobody who says they'll vote for them really does," said Ray Binham in the queue outside Natwest.
"It's just we're all getting so pissed off. Pocket-twitchers in Westminster seem a long way away from Hyde."
Under that rusting statue, just adjacent to the market, there is an introduction to the declaration of the Chartists of Hyde, describing their work as "one of the most remarkable upheavals in the history of Britain". It continues: "The townspeople of Hyde played a particularly important role in 'ringing the change' for social and political reform."
Asked what he thinks of Mr Purnell in light of that statement, Andrew Forth, a local businessman, retorted: "Pah! They fought for freedom, not fridge magnets."Reuse content