Andy Burnham accuses Labour of sidelining city mayors at party conference

Andy Burnham has accused the Labour party of sidelining its mayors in a flurry of swipes at leader Keir Starmer.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester suggested the party was not ‘serious about winning back the north’ after he and other city mayors – all except London’s Sadiq Khan – were overlooked for conference speeches.

He called for a ‘Universal Basic Income’, housing as a human right, and social care ‘free at the point of use’ – going further than the national party.

Mr Burnham complained metro mayors like himself – who he described as Labour ’s path to power – ‘haven’t got the full weight of the movement behind us’.

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And on levelling up he blasted: “I’m a little impatient with both sides, actually.” He added: “Sort of half policies briefed here and there to newspapers doesn’t work.

“I think people are saying, look, we’ve been through a pandemic, lives have been harmed. Lots of lives have been changed and not for the better.

“So people kind of need a lift here. They need to see where the country is going. And we need to have a very clear alternative path laid out by Labour this week.”

Mr Burnham insisted he supports Keir Starmer, saying: ‘I want him to win’.

He told the BBC: “I’m more of an independent voice these days… I’m doing it in that spirit as a constructive, you know, friend, sometimes challenging, but that’s how it should be.”

But he warned Labour shadow ministers must be ‘really challenging’ and ‘if we don’t get into that space this week, we will have lost a very big opportunity’.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

The former MP spoke out at a fringe event and in an interview as he descended on Labour’s annual gathering in Brighton.

Speaking to the BBC, he said the ‘leader and the shadow cabinet need to connect with the public’ and the ‘party has to move beyond ‘oh we’ll set out plans at the next election’ – I don’t think that will hold’.

Mr Burnham also slammed rule changes backed by Keir Starmer, saying ‘people are not interested in the minutiae of rule changes in political parties’.

The Greater Manchester mayor – tipped as a future leadership contender – then made a series of swipes at the national party in Westminster during a fringe event.

He said Labour’s metro mayors in Liverpool, Manchester and West Yorkshire are ‘rolling back the 1980s’ in ways that Labour in government did not.

He added: “I just think this mindset that we’ve got in the Labour Party, where we said ‘do you know what, we’ll just wait four more years and this time, and this time’ – it’s like a problem gambler wandering into a casino.

“Build out the Labour movement through devolution, across the big cities of the country… we are doing this, but Steve [Rotheram] and I and some of the other mayors feel we’re doing it a bit on our own at times.

“And we haven’t got the full weight of the movement behind us. This should be ours to own and actually it will be the route back to power.”

Mr Burnham, West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin and South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis are due to appear at an ‘in conversation’ event on the main stage at Labour’s conference on Monday. They will get short opening statements, sitting down.

But Mr Burnham slammed the failure to give them standalone speeches like Sadiq Khan’s, saying: “I do think it starts with taking this role that we have seriously.

1 Andy Burnham Press Conference

Andy Burnham

“It is I think regrettable that no Labour metro mayor outside of London is being asked to address this conference from the platform.

“I think Sadiq should have a conference speech from the platform. He’s the mayor of our capital city and he’s doing a damn fine job..

“But if this party is serious about winning back the north of England why is [Liverpool City Region mayor] Steve Rotheram not standing up there, making a speech?

“Why is Tracy Brabin, our first woman metro mayor not addressing this conference from the platform?”

Mr Burnham called for London-style bus fares capped at less than £5 per day, saying: “If Liverpool had that, if we had that, if Leeds had that, it would completely open up people’s ability to access jobs and opportunity.”

He went further than several national Labour policies in his remarks at the fringe event.

He called for housing to be a universal human right, adding: “I would also go further and say a Universal Basic Income.

“Rather than cutting Universal Credit, we should be expanding it further shouldn’t we, so that everyone has got enough to live on, and nobody has to worry about feeding their kids.

“Why in this particular moment did it take a footballer from Manchester to say that with clarity, directly to the government?”

In his BBC interview, Mr Burnham warned Labour to do more than ‘fight internal battles’ after a clash over rule changes at conference.

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He said: “It would be a mistake to leave this week, still fighting the internal battles with all of the focus there, and not setting something out that can kind of lift people and say, okay, ‘they do have a plan to close in north south divide, they do have a plan to make public transport much cheaper outside of London than it currently is. They do have a plan for social care.’

“Those are the kind of practical things people are waiting to hear.”

Mr Burnham also riffed on his status as ‘king of the north’ in his opening statement to the fringe event.

He joked: “I’ve not quite gathered the troops at the M6 Knutsford services but the day may come if they don’t sort out this levelling up thing.”

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