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.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.