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

Andy Burnham isn't Continuity Miliband, he's Blair Mark II

Labour needs someone with the approachability of Tony Blair who can speak to working class values. Sounds like a job for Andy Burnham, says Jamie Reed. 

Following defeat at the 2010 general election it was a catastrophic error for the Labour Party – particularly the Parliamentary Labour Party – to allow itself to be defined in contrast to the most successful political leadership team the party had ever known. The heady rush to narrow our platform and thereby narrow our appeal was always going to result in precisely the kind of election defeat seen in 2015.

New Labour, whether of a Blairite of Brownite variety, combined a precise understanding of modernity and shifting public attitudes, with a big-tent offer to a broad coalition of voters who wanted a better country and a better life but who really didn’t want to take a night school class in politics before being able to understand and connect with those politicians who shared those values, instincts and desires.

The result was that Labour won big on three occasions.

‘Blairism’ has been wrongly criticised in the intervening period but, like a retro boomerang, Labour’s travails have brought the term back just in time to help shape the debate about the party’s future and its next leader.

As someone happy to be called a Blairite, I know that the term defies precise definition. That said, every Blairite shares one unmistakable characteristic: they want to win elections. For this reason and many others, the Blairite logic of 2015 compels support for Andy Burnham as the next Labour party leader and prime minister.

The next Labour Leader will cast his or her net far and wide in seeking answers to explain our latest defeat. Time and money could be saved by listening to Will Hutton. Writing in the Observer recently, Hutton stated "It is obvious that the Labour Party will only win again around a refashioned Blairism."

Nothing could be clearer. The alternative approach has been tested to literal destruction.

And in polling published recently, when members of the general public were asked which past Labour leader, if any, the next Labour leader should most resemble to make them more likely vote for the Labour Party, Tony Blair came out as the clear favourite. 

Gideon Skinner, Head of Political Research at Ipsos MORI, said:

"Tony Blair still outshines other past Labour leaders – even among supporters of other parties, and especially among the middle classes - but less among older people and working classes.”

The public wants the big-tent approach of Blairism, with someone with the approachability and appeal of Tony Blair but from a working-class background? You don’t say…
Step forward Andy Burnham.

But it was the ability of Blairism to build the big tent outside of the Westminster bubble that secured so much of its success. This meant communicating and thinking in a way that was alien to the banalities of conventional politics.

The most recent British politician to do this, in the most startling and visceral way, is Andy Burnham.

Speaking to a packed Anfield, before a baying Kop, on the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, just over a minute into Burnham’s speech, a lone cry of ‘Justice!’ went up from the crowd. The cry sparked a raw display of emotion from a people – and a city – furious with the reluctance of successive governments to grant an independent inquiry into the disaster.

Burnham didn’t ignore the protest, he acknowledged it. At Anfield that day, the real world tore through the barricades of Westminster and Whitehall and Burnham left the stadium to press the case for the  inquiry. Five years later, on his return to Anfield having  secured an independent inquiry, Burnham told the Kop that ‘I knew that you were right and they [the establishment] were wrong…’ and that the hard-won inquiry was set to ask ‘…the most profound questions about our country and how it has been run…’

Those outside of power demanded to be allowed in; Andy Burnham was the first national politician to listen to their voices. These are the winds of change that are sweeping our country; these are the winds of change that must now sweep the Labour Party and Andy Burnham is the only candidate who – in thought and by his deeds – understands this necessity.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.