After once being regarded as a Blairite technocrat, Andy Burnham has reinvented himself in this parliament as one of Labour’s most passionate and effective campaigners. His stand against NHS privatisation has made him the darling of party activists (he regularly tops the shadow cabinet league table) and his plan to integrate health and social care has provided him with a distinctive policy to champion. His speech at last month’s Labour conference, which attracted three standing ovations (“a record for a non-leader?” one party source asked), was the best received of any shadow cabinet minister, and Labour’s intention to put the NHS at the centre of its general election campaign means he will continue to grow in prominence.
Burnham has received another boost today with Len McCluskey naming him as the frontbencher he is most impressed by. After remarking that “inspiration is something Ed Miliband doesn’t do, what is more important is thoughtful”, the Unite general secretary was asked by BBC News which shadow cabinet member did inspire him. He replied: “To be honest with you, the person who impresses me most at the moment is Andy Burnham.”
McCluskey’s support is significant for the shadow health secretary, who is regarded as almost certain to stand in the next Labour leadership election, not least if the party is defeated next year. After being re-elected as general secretary in 2013, McCluskey will remain in his post until 2018, making him a key player in any contest. His comments to the BBC suggest that Burnham, who would likely face Yvette Cooper and Chuka Umunna, is well-placed to win Unite’s endorsement if Labour loses in 2015.