Andy Burnham: Labour has until next spring to convince voters

The shadow health secretary voices frustration with Ed Miliband, saying: "I will give you an NHS policy that is "one nation" to its core." But will his leader listen to him?

Andy Burnham has given an interview to the Guardian about his frustration over his inability to make Ed Miliband and Ed Balls commit to his proposed reforms to the health and social care systems.

The shadow health secretary says he wants Labour to enter the next election with a promise to provide free care for the elderly, saying: "I'm talking about extending the NHS principle to social care, so everybody's in, so everybody contributes, but everybody's then covered for all their needs." In order to pay for this, he says, the party should be prepared to consider death duties, despite the inevitable cries of "death tax!" from the Tories. 

Burnham also talks about the need for the party to move on to an election footing - something it has appeared slow to do. While Lynton Crosby has been whipping Tory backbenchers into line, and Jim Messina has been enlisted to crunch the data, Labour have yet to replace Tom Watson, who resigned on 4 July. 

Burnham says that the party has only until next spring to make an offer to the electorate. "I think there's definitely a need to shout louder, and speak in a way that captures how people are feeling and thinking," he says. "There's definitely a need to put our cards on the table."

Although the interview will inevitably be spun as an attack on Miliband in some quarters, it's more accurate to represent it as an appeal to him. (Albeit it one that will make the story "Labour in trouble" again, rather than giving the party an attack line on the Tories.) Burnham speaks for many in Labour who feel that the party's leader has had quite enough time on the mountaintop; they would like the tablets of policy stone now, please. You can see a flavour of this in Tom Watson's resignation letter: "I’m proud of your Buddha-like qualities of patience, deep thought, compassion and resolve." But now get a move on and do something.

So what happens now? Labour's extremely low profile over the summer is likely to be forgotten if the party pulls something truly spectactular out of the bag in the autumn. That means, in particular, there is now even greater pressure for Miliband to impress with his set-piece speech in Brighton.

As my colleague Rafael Behr put it:

Some clarity is promised at the annual conference in September. Some, but not all of the plan for a brighter Labour future will be revealed. (“Watch this space.”) This hiatus is consistent with Miliband’s long-game strategy. His friends talk up his unflappable nature and the way that he is not distracted by the daily froth of 24-hour news, nor by the chatter of impatient commentators on New Statesman blogs.

Burnham's intervention makes it clear that it's not only commentators who are getting impatient: some of the shadow Cabinet are too. 

Andy Burnham has spoken about Labour's election prospects. Photo: Getty

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.

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.