Andy Burnham: are you having a laugh?

Shadow health secretary acts like a bloke just passing by in the Labour leadership contest.


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For some time, I've had the impression that Andy Burnham, admirable politician though I am sure he is in many ways, is not running for the Labour leadership seriously to win, but merely to raise his profile and consolidate his position as a senior player in the shadow cabinet.

Certainly during the New Statesman hustings in June, he acted a little like he had been grabed off the street and thrown on to the stage. "Yeah I'll have a crack at it," you could almost imagine him saying. Undecided on electoral reform, determined to press his northerner credentials, he appeared to offer little substance.

That is probably unfair, and he has come up with some impressive ideas in the campaign, especially regarding the National Health Service. But reading this Q&A with all the candidates in the Independent made me again think that Burnham's candidacy is something of a joke. Indeed, when I first saw it, I literally thought it might be a spoof.

Asked which individual had the greatest influence on their career, the Milibands said their parents, Ed Balls said Margaret Thatcher (in a negative way) and Diane Abbott said Nelson Mandela. Burnham's answer? Chris Smith. Now, don't get me wrong: I have great respect for Chris Smith. But when you can name anyone in the whole world as an influence, his isn't necessarily the first name to come to mind.

It gets better. The candidates are asked which person -- that's "which person", so anyone on earth -- they most admire. The Milibands say their partners. Only slightly oddly, Balls names a diary secretary of 12 years. Abbott says Michelle Obama. Deeply parochial Andy Burnham says Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the outgoing chief medical inspector.

And finally, the pièce de résistance. After various other questions -- including favourite book (Burnham: The Damned United) -- the question is posed: "What was the best moment of your life?"

All of the candidates mention their children. All except, um, Burnham. He has three kids, but chooses to ignore that. Instead, the best moment of his life, he says, was: "Singing 'Dirty Old Town' in front of family and friends from every era of my life at my 40th birthday do earlier this year."

Sorry, but I rest my case.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.