Andy's handy. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Here's why I'm backing Andy Burnham to lead Labour back to power

It’s hard to find a more genuine, decent person in politics than Andy, and I think people will connect with him at a time when we’re battling scepticism and apathy as much as we’re fighting the other side. 

On May 7, the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire voted decisively for a Labour government. And it is the people in my constituency and my city who will suffer from the Tory agenda which followed our defeat. In the face of such a defeat, it’s only natural that we spend a short time looking at why we lost so badly. It’s clear we have a lot to learn.

I knocked on a lot of doors, both in my own constituency and in marginal seats across the country and two things struck me wherever I went: people didn’t trust Labour on the economy and in general they weren’t big fans of Westminster politicians at all.   

We need to reconnect with the people we lost - to Ukip, to the SNP and those that lost faith in the entire system, and we must win votes back from those who put their trust in the Tories.

But, amongst all of this, we cannot and must not abandon our core purpose – to speak up for the voiceless and address the fundamental inequalities that means a girl born today in my constituency can expect to live up to ten years less than another girl born in a wealthier part of my city.

It’s a big job, make no mistake. But I decided quite early on that I’d be backing Andy because he is up to that task.

In my initial conversations with him, his absolute determination to take on the big issues that in the past we have tended to leave untouched was clear: on immigration and Europe and on how Labour is perceived as being part of a metropolitan elite. But it is his track record of standing up for our values and the principles we hold dear which clearly marks him out.

When it would have been easier not to, he spoke out against private sector involvement doing so much damage to our NHS; he staunchly defended our comprehensive system from Tory attacks; and while in Government he helped kick-start a process which may finally, after 26 years, bring some closure to the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster who have suffered repeated injustices over more than two decades.

More often than not, these calls went against the prevailing political winds inside the ‘Westminster village’ and that matters because we desperately need a leader who can reach out and speak to the entire country not just talk amongst themselves in London.  Andy has repeatedly shown that he can do just that.

Within that I know that Andy understands there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to why we’re not in government today.  Anybody that claims otherwise is merely attempting to force their own ideological agenda onto the defeat because while some in the South may have wanted to hear more about small business or wealth creators, there were plenty in the North and West Midlands who wanted to talk about immigration and wages; and tens of thousands of voters in Scotland who wanted change so badly, they rejected all of the main Westminster parties.

For me our main issue in this election was one of incoherence.  We didn’t spend too much in Government, but we supported the Tories’ spending cuts.  We wanted some kind of reform of Europe but didn’t advocate a referendum.  We abhorred the Tories’ welfare cuts but we voted for the welfare cap. We had some great policies in our manifesto but people just didn’t know what we stood for in a more fundamental way – we needed an overarching vision for our country. I was a vocal and firm supporter of Ed and was enthused by the way he started his leadership, but as the campaign progressed our offer seemed to be whittled away by overly cautious pledges on rail fare increase caps and childcare that even the Tories could match.

Yet people from across the political spectrum have recognised that so much of what Ed was saying was right.  We did not lose because we championed people on low pay and zero hours contracts and because we stood up to this Government’s vindictive assault on the poor.  What attracts me most to Andy is that he will not sweep all this away but will build on it, broadening it out so that it appeals to all sections of society.

And finally, If the last few years have taught us anything, the power of ‘being a normal bloke’ (or woman come to that) shouldn’t be underestimated. Farage is anything but ‘one of the people’ but he plays his role well and Ukip benefit from that. I so desperately wanted Ed Miliband to succeed but his perceived character flaws did get raised on the doorstep, constantly perpetuated by the right wing press looking to accentuate anything they thought didn’t ‘fit’.

It’s hard to find a more genuine, decent person in politics than Andy, and I think people will connect with him at a time when we’re battling scepticism and apathy as much as we’re fighting the other side. 

Getty
Show Hide image

The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.