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.

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Owen Smith apologises for pledge to "smash" Theresa May "back on her heels"

The Labour leader challenger has retracted his comments. 

Labour leader challenger Owen Smith has apologised for pledging to "smash" Theresa May "back on her heels", a day after vigorously defending his comments.

During a speech at a campaign event on Wednesday, Smith had declared of the prime minister, known for wearing kitten heels:

"I'll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When pressed about his use of language, Smith told journalists he was using "robust rhetoric" and added: "I absolutely stand by those comments."

But on Thursday, a spokesman for the campaign said Smith regretted his choice of words: "It was off script and on reflection it was an inappropriate choice of phrase and he apologises for using it."

Since the murder of the MP Jo Cox in June, there has been attempt by some in politics to tone down the use of violent metaphors and imagery. 

Others though, have stuck with it - despite Jeremy Corbyn's call for a "kinder, gentler politics" his shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, described rebel MPs as a "lynch mob without the rope"

Smith's language has come under scrutiny before. In 2010, when writing about the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition, he asked: "Surely, the Liberal will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?"

After an outcry over the domestic violence metaphor, Smith edited the piece.