I’d still like to lead the Labour Party one day – Andy Burnham

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Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has not ruled out challenging for the Labour Party leadership for a third time – “one day”.

Speaking from the “hot seat” on BBC Radio Manchester’s phone-in yesterday, Mr Burnham responded to a listener who said the Labour Party would only come back to life and represent the majority when Andy Burnham returns to Parliament and leads the party.

“I appreciate the support,” said Mr Burnham, “but I am going to be standing as Mayor of Greater Manchester next year, not as Labour leader. I am enjoying the job that I’m in.

“I am not an MP so couldn’t go into this leadership contest right now. But, I don’t know, I’d still like to lead the Labour Party one day, I’ll be honest about that. There’s no point in me saying not.

“I have tried twice and failed twice. I think it’s partly because the party is London-centric. They’ve not really wanted someone like me so my problem is not really the support of the public. The party has never seen me as the right person.

“If one day that changes, I wouldn’t rule out going back to that. But I want people to know that I didn’t take this job to bide my time and wait. I am passionately committed to this job. I love it. I love the people.”

Mr Burnham, the former MP for Leigh, which fell to the Conservatives in one of the shock results of last week’s general election, served as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Culture Secretary and Secretary of State for Health in Gordon Brown’s government.

He made a bid for the leadership after Labour’s election defeat of 2010 and came fourth out of five candidates in a contest won by Ed Miliband.

Mr Burnham served as Shadow Secretary for Health and for Education in Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet and made a second bid for the leadership when Miliband resigned following defeat in 2015. This time he finished a distant second to Jeremy Corbyn.

Asked by Radio Manchester programme host Mike Sweeney which candidate he would endorse to be the next Labour leader, Mr Burnham hedged his bets.

“I’m not going to rush into it. I am going to listen. But if the Labour Party doesn’t turn in the right direction, I don’t know what’s going to happen to it and I have felt this for a long time.

“ I have been arguing for years that Labour is too London-centric. I am going to watch and listen. The person who most understands that Labour has not spoken for its traditional supporting working class communities. The one who most understands that giving more power to people at local level through devolution like we have in Greater Manchester – that’s the person who will get my support.”

Mr Burnham told listeners he believed Jeremy Corbyn’s departure as leader of the party should “not be prolonged”. He agreed that Corbyn had been “toxic” to some voters but not for everybody. But a leader needed to connect with all ages in all parts of the country and “it’s a fact that Jeremy didn’t do that”.

Labour had got its position on Brexit completely wrong. In the 2017 election, the party had a policy to respect the referendum result, which was the right position for a place like Leigh because it voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU.

“That position got changed,” Mr Burnham said, “to support for a second referendum. What that said to people in Leigh was ‘we don’t actually care about how you voted, we’re going to try and unpick it’ and I think that’s why places like Leigh voted the way that they did.”

Asked whether he thought if he had been leader of the Labour Party he would have been Prime Minister today, Mr Burnham laughed and said: “No, not necessarily. I did run against Corbyn in 2015 and I lost because I made a lot of mistakes, so in no way am I perfect.

“But I think I was making an argument back then that, maybe, people can see a little more clearly now. I was saying that this Westminster bubble had neglected large swathes of the north of England and no-one was going with what I was saying.”

Mr Burnham said he understood why party members went for Jeremy Corbyn “but this country is so unequal when it comes to the north-south divide and I just hope there’s going to be real change now in terms of investment and support for communities that really need that help.”

He added: “I think that what we are doing here is part of the answer. Westminster is a broken system. Let’s make change happen differently through more devolution.”

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