Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham during the State Opening of Parliament on May 27, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Burnham promises to establish pro-EU Labour group separate from the Tories

Ahead of Brussels visit, leadership candidate says he will "learn the lessons of the Scottish independence referendum" by not joining forces with the Conservatives. 

It is Europe that will define British politics until the Tories' promised referendum on EU membership is held. Aware of this, Andy Burnham will today become the first of the Labour leadership contenders to visit Brussels. The shadow health secretary will use the trip to woo Labour MEPs (some of whom wield significant influence among party members) and to further outline the stance he would take on the EU (he has already called for the referendum to be held by next autumn). 

After the party's collapse in Scotland, following its decision to campaign alongside the Conservatives during the independence referendum (a policy Gordon Brown long warned would lead to ruin), Burnham will announce that he would establish a separate "Labour Yes" campaign for the referendum. His stance will assuage fears, most notably among northern MPs, that Ukip could thrive by framing the party as the Tories' accomplice. 

During his meetings with MEPs and the UK Ambassador to the EU, Ivan Rodgers, Burnham will also discuss his renegotiation agenda, including reforms to the EU Posted Workers Directive to strengthen the enforcement of the national minimum wage and address the undercutting of high-skilled labour; action against agencies who recruit exclusively from abroad and deny local workers employment opportunities; and reform of entitlement to in and out of work benefits to reflect the contributory principle.

Burnham said:

Even though Labour is in a leadership campaign, I am not going to let the EU debate be defined by David Cameron. Today, I will discuss with Labour colleagues in the European Parliament what a distinctive pro-European reform package will look like.

These are areas that David Cameron will not be focusing on and that is why we be raising them today to make the Labour case for Europe. Re-negotiation cannot be a green light to turn the clock back and weaken employment rights.

 Labour will also learn the lessons of the Scottish independence referendum and it is my intention to have a separate 'Labour Yes' campaign.

But already there are signs of tensions within Labour over the referendum, with pro-Europeans fearing the party will shy away from full-throated support for EU membership. The shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden writes in the new issue of Progress magazine: "There is no doubt that the way we argued our referendum case was an issue on the doorstep in Scotland, though the troubles of Scottish Labour go deeper than that. The Scottish National party had been running Scotland for years and already held a majority in the Scottish parliament.

"So let us debate how we shape our argument and if learning from the Scottish experience points to a more distinct Labour yes campaign then we should establish that. But there is a difference between campaign tactics and holding to our strategic position.

"We could not have opted out of the argument to maintain the UK. We are not a nationalist party."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo:Getty
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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.