Turmoil after Steven Purcell quits his glittering political career
STEVEN Purcell, the Labour leader of Glasgow City Council, threw his party into turmoil yesterday as he suddenly quit his job, blaming "exhaustion".
• Steven Purcell had been seen as a rising star of the Labour Party in Scotland, making his sudden departure all the more damaging. He was also involved in the general election campaign team. Picture: Donald MacLeod
In a statement issued by his lawyer, the 37-year-old, one of the party's rising stars, was said to be "in the care of professionals", receiving medical help for a stress-related condition.
The statement said Mr Purcell had reached breaking point in recent weeks, after a difficult period that included the stream of revelations surrounding SPT (Strathclyde Partnership for Transport). However, it failed to prevent speculation about his exact reasons for going, as even his closest colleagues said they had no idea he had been feeling such pressure.
Last Thursday evening, Mr Purcell was known to be present at a Labour Party fundraiser in Glasgow, alongside Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He met MSPs on Friday morning, for what were described as "convivial" talks.
But Glasgow City Council officials confirmed that, by Saturday afternoon, he had suddenly decided he could no longer carry on in a job he had held for five years.
Mr Purcell had been viewed as a potential future Labour leader at Holyrood, having built a solid reputation as a moderniser. But it is understood he has been leading a frenetic life in recent months, with friends and family growing worried about his health.
Yesterday, the council directed all calls to Mr Purcell's solicitor, Peter Watson. The officials also revealed Mr Purcell's lawyers had asked them not to discuss the state of his health before the announcement was made public.
A statement from Mr Watson, a defamation lawyer at Levy & McRae, said: "My client is resting and recovering from exhaustion in the care of professionals. Earlier, Steven made the effort to telephone his resignation as leader of Glasgow City Council."
"Steven does this with a heavy heart, but the strain of running one of the UK's largest authorities, combined with the pressures of the Commonwealth Games planning and the controversy over SPT, has just proved too much for a man who lived and breathed Glasgow 24 hours a day."
His sudden departure deprives Labour of a key figure in the coming Westminster election. Mr Purcell was understood to have been heavily involved in planning for the campaign alongside Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy.
But the latest news appears to have brought a halt to the career of a man that many had predicted was heading for the top of the Labour Party.
Having taken over as leader of the council aged only 32, Mr Purcell had won a reputation as an efficient moderniser, who was also partly responsible for Glasgow's successful bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
At an emergency meeting yesterday, the council's Labour group accepted his resignation and appointed his deputy, Jim Coleman, as interim leader. Later, Mr Coleman said: "What's important now is that the people of Glasgow know that, as far as the council is concerned, it's business as usual."
He added: "It was a great shock. We didn't know Stephen was under such pressure. All we can do is wish him a speedy recovery."
A council spokesman said Mr Purcell had confirmed his resignation at 9pm on Monday, adding: "Officers have been contacted by his lawyer and asked not to discuss his health."
Mr Purcell replaced Charlie Gordon as council leader in 2005. Four years later, he revealed he was gay after splitting from his wife.
His spokesman, Jack Irvine, said close friends and family had become concerned for his health in recent weeks. "Steven agreed to seek medical help immediately and he is now under doctor's orders," he said. "He would hope to get back into active politics in the next few weeks and months.
"He hopes the people of Glasgow would appreciate what he has tried to do for the city he loves."
Mr Irvine denied reports Mr Purcell had been admitted to an addiction treatment centre and said he was staying with relatives.
A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond said the resignation was a "private matter", but he paid tribute to Mr Purcell's contribution to Glasgow, particularly over the Commonwealth Games.
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