Andy Burnham: are you having a laugh?

Shadow health secretary acts like a bloke just passing by in the Labour leadership contest.

For some time, I've had the impression that Andy Burnham, admirable politician though I am sure he is in many ways, is not running for the Labour leadership seriously to win, but merely to raise his profile and consolidate his position as a senior player in the shadow cabinet.

Certainly during the New Statesman hustings in June, he acted a little like he had been grabed off the street and thrown on to the stage. "Yeah I'll have a crack at it," you could almost imagine him saying. Undecided on electoral reform, determined to press his northerner credentials, he appeared to offer little substance.

That is probably unfair, and he has come up with some impressive ideas in the campaign, especially regarding the National Health Service. But reading this Q&A with all the candidates in the Independent made me again think that Burnham's candidacy is something of a joke. Indeed, when I first saw it, I literally thought it might be a spoof.

Asked which individual had the greatest influence on their career, the Milibands said their parents, Ed Balls said Margaret Thatcher (in a negative way) and Diane Abbott said Nelson Mandela. Burnham's answer? Chris Smith. Now, don't get me wrong: I have great respect for Chris Smith. But when you can name anyone in the whole world as an influence, his isn't necessarily the first name to come to mind.

It gets better. The candidates are asked which person -- that's "which person", so anyone on earth -- they most admire. The Milibands say their partners. Only slightly oddly, Balls names a diary secretary of 12 years. Abbott says Michelle Obama. Deeply parochial Andy Burnham says Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the outgoing chief medical inspector.

And finally, the pièce de résistance. After various other questions -- including favourite book (Burnham: The Damned United) -- the question is posed: "What was the best moment of your life?"

All of the candidates mention their children. All except, um, Burnham. He has three kids, but chooses to ignore that. Instead, the best moment of his life, he says, was: "Singing 'Dirty Old Town' in front of family and friends from every era of my life at my 40th birthday do earlier this year."

Sorry, but I rest my case.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.