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.
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The public like radical policies, but they aren't so keen on radical politicians

Around the world, support for genuinely revolutionary ideas is strong, but in the UK at least, there's less enthusiasm for the people promising them.

You’re probably a getting a little bored of the litany of talking head statistics: trust in elected officials, parliament, the justice system and even democracy itself has been falling steadily for years and is at record lows. Maybe you’ve seen that graph that shows how people born after 1980 are significantly less likely than those born in 1960 to think that living in a democracy is ‘essential’. You’ve possibly heard of the ‘Pasokification’ of the centre-left, so-named the collapse of the once dominant Greek social democratic party Pasok, a technique being aggressively pursued by other centre-left parties in Europe to great effect.    

And so, goes the logic, there is a great appetite for something different, something new. It’s true! The space into which Trump et al barged leaves plenty of room for others: Beppe Grillo in Italy, Spanish Podemos, Bernie Sanders, Jean Luc Melanchon, and many more to come.

In my new book Radicals I followed movements and ideas that in many cases make someone like Jeremy Corbyn seem positively pedestrian: people who want to dismantle the nation state entirely, use technology to live forever, go off grid. All these ideas are finding fertile ground with the frustrated, disillusioned, and idealistic. The challenges of coming down the line – forces of climate change, technological change, fiscal crunch, mass movements of people – will demand new types of political ideas. Radical, outsider thinking is back, and this does, in theory at least, offer a chink of light for Corbyn’s Labour.

Polling last week found pretty surprising levels of support for many of his ideas. A big tax on high earners, nationalising the railways, banning zero hours contracts and upping the minimum wage are all popular. Support for renewable energy is at an all-time high. According to a recent YouGov poll, Brits actually prefer socialism to capitalism, a sentiment most strongly held among younger people.

There are others ideas too, which Corbyn is probably less likely to go for. Stopping benefits entirely for people who refuse to accept an offer of employment is hugely popular, and in one recent poll over half of respondents would be happy with a total ban on all immigration for the next two years. Around half the public now consistently want marijuana legalised, a number that will surely swell as US states with licenced pot vendors start showing off their dazzling tax returns.

The BNP effect used to refer to the problem the far-right had with selling their ideas. Some of their policies were extremely popular with the public, until associated with the BNP. It seems as though the same problem is now afflicting the Labour brand. It’s not the radical ideas – there is now a genuine appetite for those who think differently – that’s the problem, it’s the person who’s tasked with delivering them, and not enough people think Corbyn can or should. The ideal politician for the UK today is quite possibly someone who is bold enough to have genuinely radical proposals and ideas, and yet appears extremely moderate, sensible and centrist in character and temperament. Perhaps some blend of Blair and Corbyn. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? But this is politics, 2017. Anything is possible.

Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme and the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos.

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