Here’s what happened when I met Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham after a campaign event in London
Rather than just criticising from afar, I decided to make an effort to see all of the candidates running for the leadership of the Labour Party, in the hope that they might seem more interesting – if not inspiring – in person, when not filtered through television screens or newspaper columns.
First up was Andy Burnham. So earlier tonight I waited outside St. Pancras parish church near Euston in London with a surprisingly large number of supporters waiting to hear Andy Burnham speak.
Overall, Burnham was fairly impressive, though he had the advantage of addressing a capacity crowd buoyed up by the irrepressible John Prescott as a warm-up act. Full impressions of the evening will come later, but suffice it to say that while I still favour Jeremy Corbyn because of the sorely needed ideological difference that he brings, Andy Burnham is not without good ideas of his own.
I spoke with Andy Burnham at the end of the event. I was particularly interested to discuss how – if at all – Andy Burnham intended to reconcile the seething anti-Tory hatred within the Labour Party with the need to persuade and win over current Conservative and UKIP voters in coming elections.
Below is the transcript of my interview:
Question: Your speech has obviously gone down well, you had a standing ovation. You talked about the Bullingdon Boys quite a lot, you talked about the Tory cuts, you talked about Iain Duncan Smith “terrorising disabled people” with ESA changes, and that goes down very well in this hall. But what happens when you try and take the message outside of this room, outside Labour supporters? What happens in 2020 when you try and fight the general election when, let’s face it, you’re going to have to win the support of people who voted Tory and might not like to hear that they have been complicit in maybe a genocide of the disabled or the persecution of the sick? How do you take this passion, but do it in a way that doesn’t necessarily alienate the half of the country who might vote for the Conservatives or for UKIP?
Andy Burnham: Well, I trust in the decency of the British people. They don’t want to see disabled people worrying from one day to the next, full of anxiety, and I think they see how the things that they [the Tories] are doing are cruel. Unfair. Because if people can’t work, people support the idea that they have help. If people can work, then people want to see them helped into work, but Duncan Smith goes further than that, and they’re taking support off people, money off people, who have no ability to replace that income. And the stress, the anxiety that causes is just wrong.
So that’s what I’ve said and I will stand as Labour leader for a fair and humane benefits system, but actually also responding to the concerns people have about immigration, about the economy, I’ve said that we should do that. This party shouldn’t just talk to itself – I said that tonight – it should talk for the whole country, and that’s what we’ll do under my leadership.
Question: And on that note, how does your party connect with aspirational Britain? So we get the compassion, that’s very clear, and that comes through loud and clear in your voice and in the supporters, but what about the people who are striving, you know, maybe trying to move up into those top income tax brackets and don’t think that that is necessarily a bad thing? How do you win them over to the Labour Party and to your cause?
Andy Burnham: Well that’s a really, really good question. And I’ve said that I want to lead a Labour Party that helps everybody get on in life, not a party that drags people back or speaks to the politics of envy but helps people get on, so helps people get onto the housing ladder with a very ambitious housing policy that stops young people having to find a huge deposit, that really helps them get an affordable home, that removes that millstone of debt off the backs of young people, so gets rid of tuition fees, supports young people who want a technical education. These are the policies that I believe in, and actually, when it comes to older people, have a situation where nobody loses everything they’ve worked for just because they happen to be vulnerable and need care. These are the policies that I’ve got and I believe they can speak to the whole country.
You can decide for yourself whether you think Andy Burnham answered my questions or not. But I came away feeling that the message had not quite penetrated, or been fully understood. Burnham’s answers were still predicated on the idea that there is a savage attack being carried out on the vulnerable by the Tories, and that anyone in their right mind must be able to see this.
But more concerning to those who care about Labour’s future, even when I provided a golden opportunity to pitch to Britain’s aspirational voters and perhaps talk about rolling back regulation, taxes and the nanny state, Burnham could only talk about what government has to offer the people by way of state handouts and perks. It’s hard to see this message resonating with the millions of aspirational voters who just want to get on, and who don’t look to government as an essential partner in everything that they do.
My full review of Andy Burnham’s campaign event in London will be available here.