(Note – written before Burnham was confirmed as Labour candidate for mayor of Manchester)
As a consequence of his failure in the Labour leadership contest in August last year the occasionally ubiquitous Andy Burnham had been less visible than usual as he waited for another spurious opportunity to try to re-assert his adept use of the Peter Principle. He has been careful to not align himself unequivocally with the Progress Labour MPs – a sensible decision given that the raucous, chaotic and libellous campaign against Corbyn’s politics damns eternally all its protagonists – and Burnham has been equally uncommitted to full support for Corbyn until (if such a time exists) he is confident that popular opinion favours the Labour leader’s outlook.
Burnham is a dull careerist. Careerism in the House of Commons is not unusual but Burnham isn’t good at it. A careerist MP needs the pretence of a plan and indicators of alignment. Her of his PR team needs to be able to position their client somewhere with a smidgen of consistency. Burnham’s strategy is to just pop up randomly saying “look at me, I still exist.” Thus, yesterday, his team booked Burnham onto various TV shows to plug his intent to be the Labour candidate for the post of mayor of Manchester after having deliberately changed his twitter handle to “accidentally” reveal the intent. He is not the Labour candidate – the party has yet to choose their candidate and the election is not until next year – but, given that the media will accept any opportunity to promote a Labour MP who isn’t obviously a supporter of Corbyn, Burnham was able to get plenty of airtime to spout his non-vision.
In an interview in the Guardian Burnham describes himself as a “big name” in Labour amid claiming that Labour lost support in Scotland because the party’s biggest names didn’t get involved with Scottish devolution – see Burnham in Guardian. I don’t think the people who switched their votes from Labour to SNP or Green Party in Scotland did so because of a lack of Labour big names. Does Burnham think that not enough Westminster bubble English MPs were sticking their oar in? Also, to compare the creation of these new mayors with Scottish devolution is belittling to the entire status and functionality of the Scottish parliament.
He further states that the mayor of Manchester is a “cabinet level” job. The metropolitan and regional mayors and accompanying false “devolution” were invented by the Tory government for the related reasons of shifting the blame from central (Tory) government and hopes that Tory mayors could sneak in via personality in predominantly Labour-voting regions and cities as occurred in Greater London. The mayoral posts are wholly unnecessary, inefficient and pander to concepts of crafted persona. Burnham’s “cabinet-level” description is laughable and an insult to the electorate of Manchester; he is willingly accepting the Tory con while displaying an odd appreciation of his misplaced ego. His rousing demonstration of revolutionary thought is “I think I can do more for the people I care about, here, by being here rather than there [Westminster], given this change. I am thinking that the time has come – Westminster has become a bit of an irrelevance for some people and we really need to change the way politics works.”
In an interview in the Manchester Evening News Burnham says “The more I’ve thought about it [mayor of Manchester], the more I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a massive moment for politics,” (Burnham in MEN), followed by a wish list of powers and their desired subsequent achievements in health, education and welfare. Oddly, Burnham conveniently forgets that there is a Tory government setting laws for the whole country and deciding budgets for councils. He also forgets how he has voted in parliament, particularly on bills on welfare. His declared hopes for what he would want to do as mayor bear no relation to what the mayor will be able to do, legally or financially. He sounds like a child who wants a bike for his birthday and thinks that he will then be able to fly. This fake devolution is not a “massive moment for politics.”
But, for Burnham, “it’s a big moment that could rebalance politics and the country quite fundamentally, but if Labour underplays it or neglects it, then in my view we’ll be making quite a major mistake.” Hence, Burnham’s plea for a “big name” like himself. He overstates the importance of these new mayoral appointments, has a dig at the Labour leadership for not being as fooled as he is regarding their importance, while simultaneously inflating his own political stature. “The person who is going to do this job needs to have the ability to say what they think. And I am somebody who will do that. If I think something is wrong I will speak out about it” he exclaims with all the gusto of a lower-middle management type who has been tasked with choosing the exact location in the office of the new water-cooler.
Burnham embellishes his MEN interview by going all Alan Partridge about the Manchester music scene that he wants to revitalise. “I regularly go to gigs all the time.” Regularly all the time, not just regularly some of the time, all the time.
Labour will win the Manchester mayor election comfortably, without Andy Burnham (see note below). He is not a leader. There is no harm in having ambition, even if it elicits only mild derisory smirks from onlookers, which Burnham’s self-promotion has.
(Update August 9th: Andy Burnham is the Labour candidate for mayor of Manchester….)