After the departure of Chuka Umunna from the Labour leadership race, Andy Burnham has moved quickly to cement his status as the frontrunner. Yesterday he announced a politically diverse group of supporters: shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher (who will manage his campaign), shadow justice secretary Charlie Falconer, shadow Welsh secretary Owen Smith and shadow health minister Luciana Berger. On the Andrew Marr Show this morning, he revealed another significant backer: Rachel Reeves. The shadow work and pensions secretary was going to endorse her friend and fellow 2010er Umunna but his withdrawal has led her to endorse Burnham. His announcement that she will lead his campaign’s economic work all but confirmed that the economist will become shadow chancellor if he wins.
The support of so many of his colleagues is no guarantee of victory under Labour’s new one-member-one-vote system (which means MPs’ votes are no longer worth more than those of activists). But it has given Burnham crucial early momentum. Asked on the Marr Show whether he was “the union candidate” (he is set to win the backing of Unite), he replied: “I’m the unifying candidate”. The ideological breadth of his supporters has helped to reinforce that message. The chaotic fallout from the election (in nine days Labour has lost its leader, its Scottish leader, its shadow chancellor, its shadow foreign secretary and a leadership candidate) means that members may well follow course and rally around Burnham as the safe choice.
The shadow health secretary’s main challenger is Liz Kendall, who is likely to attract many of Umunna’s former supporters. The extended length of the contest (which concludes on 12 September) will allow her to raise her profile among members. But at a time when Labour has appeared incapable of running a whelk stall, her relative lack of experience (she was elected in 2010 and has not shadowed a secretary of state) may prove too great an obstacle.