Burnham might be the man to take Labour back into Government

Burnham clenched fist

OK so it has been amusing while it has lasted, but reality is beginning to set in now. In the last few days I have picked up definite moves towards Andy Burnham among those who told me they were voting for Jeremy Corbyn.

In many ways I think this is what Burnham’s Parliamentary supporters were hoping for when many of them added their name to Corbyn’s nomination papers. Burnham was in danger of being described as the “leftist” candidate by the Tory press. There is certainly no danger of that now, though in many ways he is the continuity Miliband candidate. He has certainly benefited more than Yvette Cooper has. Liz Kendall’s campaign died before it ever really had a chance to get going.

Andy Burnham is picking up support as the “sensible Corbyn” candidate. He’s clearly marketing himself now as the “electable Corbyn” – hence his rip off of the rail nationalisation shtick, which turns out to be just current Labour policy and would leave the railways in private hands until at least 2030.

Usually credible commentators suggest that Burnham isn’t going to win because he isn’t picking up huge numbers of second preference votes from Corbyn. But unless Corbyn comes third, currently unlikely, that is irrelevant. It is how many preference votes Burnham gets from Cooper and Kendall – and I can’t see either of them having huge numbers of supporters that would back Corbyn. Indeed if faced with the possibility of the 1983 manifesto being renewed, I suspect most Blairites and Brownites (Kendall & Cooper supporters) will instead back Burnham with their second preferences.

I’ve been quite critical of Andy Burnham. He was front and centre of the Miliband election strategy, and he was arguing for a Health policy that was directly opposite to what he implemented as Secretary of State for Health under Gordon Brown just five years ago. So frankly everything he said was taken with a big pinch of salt.

But if you assume that, just as with the welfare abstention last month, he was being loyal to the Shadow Cabinet, actually what he says now, when fighting to become the next Labour Prime Minister in 2020, seems to indicate he gets it.

He seems to understand that people didn’t feel Labour was on their side. That millions of traditional Labour voters had given up on the party, and voted either UKIP in England & Wales, or SNP in Scotland. That you need aspirational voters who voted for the Tories while holding their noses in 2010 and 2015 to turn instead and vote for Labour.

Speaking at Ernst & Young – a City accountancy firm that would have been strictly off limits over the past five years – Mr Burnham acknowledged that the country believed that Labour had abdicated any economic competence. He said “across the UK, people had lingering doubts about our economic competence.

“Many were undecided right up to the wire in this Election. They were no great fans of David Cameron, his Conservatives or the Coalition.

“But, in the final analysis, they saw Labour as a risk they couldn’t take.

“They did not see clearly enough how we would help secure their family or their business.”

I’ve heard some Labour supporters suggest that this was because the electorate were selfish. Damn right we are. When the electorate can see what you are going to do for the man down the street, are they not entitled to ask what about me?

Some people have also suggested that Labour won because the Tories terrified the electorate in England with the threat of the SNP. But again, here I think Mr Burnham gets it. Had Miliband been on track for a majority, that threat wouldn’t have had any teeth at all.

In taking his first speech to the heart of the City, Mr Burnham accepted that Labour couldn’t turn its back on business and expect to win. “I am clear that no political party can win a British General Election if they convey any sense of being anti-business, wealth creation or success.

“But I also want you all to know that I am not the kind of person who just comes to make speeches like this to say the right thing and tick the right boxes.

“And Labour needs to do much more than that if it is win people’s trust again.

“You only win if you can communicate a convincing sense of who you are and what you are all about; why you want the job; and what you will do with it.”

Reading his first speech almost makes him seem like the Blairite he used to be. He speaks of aspiration, of helping people up rather than helping them out. He was the first in his family to go to University, and he worked in the real world before joining politics. The line he uses about hard graft could come from any George Osborne speech.  “The Labour Party I lead will be once again truly the ‘Party of work’ — where, if people are prepared to put in the hard graft, their accent or background must never hold them back.”

The concept of hard graft allowing you to get on has never been a Tory one. It has been appropriated by the Tories since the 1980s, and Labour has abdicated that ground for all that time – except between 1997 and 2010, when they had leaders who understood the electorate.

There is a lot I don’t like about Andy. His constant refusal to hold a proper inquiry into the Mid Staffs hospital disaster condemns him. His refusal to meet the relatives of the victims looks foolish in hindsight. Older readers will recall Dick Crossman’s handling of the Ely Hospital crisis in Cardiff, revealed by a (then) young Tory lawyer, Geoffrey Howe, in 1969. Rather than worry about the political consequences of what had happened on Labour’s watch, he published the full 83,000 page report and demanded action to make sure “it never happens again.”

More worryingly, as he seeks to take enough support from Corbyn to ensure he is the clear second, if he cannot win in the first round, he seems to be shifting to the left – though on rail nationalisation his drift leftwards, as cynically populist as it seems, does at least reflect where the country is.

But Mr Burnham isn’t trying to persuade me to vote for him; I haven’t voted Labour in 15 years. He hopes that, if elected Labour leader, he can build a coalition of the electorate that includes many who currently vote for a variety of parties – including some Tories. His rhetoric will appeal to that broad coalition.

If Andy Burnham genuinely believes the rhetoric he uses in his stump speech, then perhaps Burnham could be the first Labour leader in 18 years to increase the number of Labour MPs in Parliament. Perhaps he is even the man to lead Labour back into Government.

Policies that deliver will help Labour reconnect with traditional voters

Labour Party Logo 2014

The insight into why Labour lost in Scotland came from reading an interview with Mhairi Black MP. The youngest member of the House of Commons – by some way – the 20 year old SNP MP grew up in a Labour family. But crucially they switched to the SNP in 2007. Because the SNP delivered social change, while Labour just talked about it.

For years I have wondered why on earth people who live in poverty vote Labour. It makes no sense to me that in Ipswich, for instance, the council estates with the highest incidence of anti-social behaviour, with the worst roads, with a real paucity of services, are also the same places that are most strongly voting for the Labour Party who have run this council since 1979 – save for a brief hiatus between 2004 and 2011.

Some Tories in Ipswich – and elsewhere – call it turkey’s voting for Christmas. That’s pretty insulting, but it isn’t entirely uncalled for.

Between 1997 and 2010 the Labour Government did produce a number of policies that helped some of the poorest in society. But Blair won power by identifying that the public didn’t trust the Labour Party, and deliberately demonstrating his scorn for his party. He picked fights with “the Labour left” and characterised them as dinosaurs. What he was actually doing was separating himself from the heart of his party and that explains why so many people in Labour now would prefer to pretend that Blair never happened – a position Tories find bizarre.

Because Blair had won power by separating himself from Labour – in a way that Gordon Brown, the other big beast of New Labour, never did – the New Labour project became more about winning than in what Labour could do with that power. As a consequence, many of the policies pushed for the last 20 years have not helped those Labour are supposed to help.

The Labour Party is, at heart, the voice of the workers. It should be a movement about improving the conditions of the working people of this country, about improving their lot in life, and about supporting their ambitions to ensure that their children have a better life than they had.

Yet in Government, Labour introduced tuition fees, then increased them as top up fees. It introduced a system of benefits that sought to subsidise big businesses, allowing them to hold down wages and leaving people reliant on tax credits. It introduced the 10% tax rate – then scrapped it, doubling the tax rate for the poorest paid. It welcomed – nay encouraged – millions of unskilled workers to come to this country and drive down the wages of the British working class.

Is it really any surprise that Labour voters in safe Labour seats (they still exist in England and Wales) have become more and more lethargic? Turnout among Labour voters has collapsed in many core seats – and has become almost non-existent in many Scottish seats.

To many, Jeremy Corbyn is a disaster waiting to happen to Labour. I am quite convinced that he would lead Labour to defeat in 2020, even if the Tories selected a complete tool like Chris Grayling as their new leader when Cameron steps down. But it might just be that Mr Corbyn is what Labour needs, so the party can remember where it comes from.

At some point in the future, Labour will pull through this existential crisis. Rather than plumping for one of the three candidates parroting whatever they think the voters want to hear – as Alexandre Ledru-Rollin supposedly said, “there go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader” – Labour should seriously consider electing Jeremy Corbyn and reconnecting with those traditional Labour voters who have been patronised by the party for the last quarter of a century.

From defeat can come triumph. George Osborne’s greatest trick has been to convince the public that Labour caused the 2008 recession, rather than merely leaving the country incapable of weathering the gathering storm in the way it did during the dot com crash. But his second greatest trick has been to avoid answering tricky questions – like what happened to balancing the budget by the end of the last Parliament; what happened to rebalancing the economy towards manufacturing and away from services; what happened to making the economy less reliant on consumer spending, credit and debt?

Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall are the only two candidates capable of asking those questions without being asked about Labour’s record. Corbyn, because everyone knows he was busy opposing just about everything New Labour stood for. And Kendall because she’s only been around since 2010 and therefore can avoid the blame for the mistakes made by Brown, Balls and Miliband in the Treasury.

If the new Labour leader can put Osborne back on his heels, can reconnect with traditional Labour voters, can offer a different and coherent economic strategy for the future, then sure, we’ll reopen the ideological battles between Labour and the Tories, and sure the Tories (and I along with them no doubt) will argue that Labour are wrong, but if they stick to core principles, if there is a coherence to their policy platform, a consistency that chimes with what they profess to believe, there is no reason they cannot make major gains in 2020.

Indeed if they take the lesson Mhairi Black was sent to Westminster to tell them – that delivery for the people they are supposed to represent is the only thing that matters to those people – they could see an SNP style sweeping of the board. Harness the power of hope and deliver power to the people, and you will always beat the politics of fear and negativity.

If Jeremy Corbyn is the answer, what in God’s name is the question?

Left-winger Jeremy Corbyn campaigns against a Labour Council with a 47-1 majority (the one non Labour councillor is a Green).

Left-winger Jeremy Corbyn campaigns against a Labour Council with a 47-1 majority (the one non Labour councillor is a Green).

What the hell is the Labour Party thinking? Perhaps they aren’t. Certainly if their thoughts on the Labour Party leadership contest are anything to go by they aren’t.

I am sure Jeremy Corbyn reflects a large part of the Labour Party membership. But do any of them, even the most bonkers hard liners – the Labour equivalent of those who think Philip Davies MP could be Tory PM – really truly think that he could ever become Prime Minister?

I used to be a member of the Tory Party. I know a little bit about changing leaders, and about who is truly unelectable. In 1997 the Tories chose Hague instead of Clarke. A mistake, it was too early for him and nobody could possibly have won the next election for the Tories. In 2001 they chose Iain Duncan Smith instead of Ken Clarke. Another mistake – they never even let him lead through an election. In 2004 the Tory MPs crowned Michael Howard, and he made minor (very minor) advances at the election.

Jeremy Corbyn is no Iain Duncan Smith. He is a “never” event. Something that is never meant to happen. Labour want him on the ballot “to further the debate” within the party. Excuse me? What planet are these people on? You are electing a party leader – someone with the potential to be the next Prime Minister.

DO YOU REALLY THINK JEREMY CORBYN COULD BE PRIME MINISTER?

Andy Burnham is the left’s candidate. Liz Kendall is the right’s candidate. Yvette Cooper is neither, and will suffer for that, though I think she might end up being a stronger candidate than either.

Jeremy Corbyn is a ridiculous idea put forward by ridiculous people who belong in the past. He is not the future of the Labour Party and he is not the future of this country. He has nothing to offer other than command socialism and a return to the past. He is the Labour equivalent of those Tories who hanker after UKIP’s comfy vision of a 50s Britain with no memory of rickets or poverty or hardship.

Anyone thinking of voting for Jeremy Corbyn deserves a damn good slap.