Andy Burnham’s dad is upset with me

He says the former health secretary has a different background from the Miliband bros and Balls.

In my G2 piece on the Labour leadership race, I wrote:

So far the contest has resembled a City boardroom. Two Eds. Two brothers. Plus Andy Burnham. All of them white, male, fortysomething, Oxbridge graduates.

Andy Burnham's father, Roy, has been in touch this morning to tell me he "is not happy" and is "annoyed" that I didn't make it clear to the readers that his son, the former health secretary and MP for Leigh, did indeed graduate from Cambridge (and is, of course, white, male and 40-plus) but is actually from a working-class background, state-school-educated and northern.

I'm happy to make that clarification and apologise to Roy if I offended him. I still stand by my point, however, that the Labour leadership race looked like a City boardroom prior to the black, female MP Diane Abbott declaring her candidacy.

Nonetheless, I think it's rather sweet that Burnham Sr is so protective of Burnham Jr, who could, in theory, be this country's next prime minister. Speaking on the phone with me, Roy said the family had working-class and socialist roots, and reminded me that he is a former telephone engineer (his wife, Andy's mother, is a former telephone operator).

I asked him where he'd place his son on the political spectrum, to which he replied: "To the left of New Labour." Intriguing. I also asked him who he thought Andy's main rival for the leadership was, to which Roy replied, without hesitation: "David Miliband. The front-runner. But with a four-month contest anything can happen. It's a long time."

Indeed, it is.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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