Labour is in desperate need of cohesive left-wing leadership if it is to regain any ground before the 2020 general election, and I believe Andy Burnham is the man to provide this. Our Scottish vote has been almost universally decimated, and it’s not going to come back in the next 5 years. Instead, the focus needs to be on appealing to the working-class English and Welsh votes we lost – the people who should be our core voter base. In terms of electability vis-a-vis the 2020 election, Andy is the best candidate; he has a solid, working-class Northern background and a strong relationship with his constituents in Leigh. He has extensive parliamentary experience: he’s been the MP for Leigh since 2001, was Health Secretary and Culture Secretary before the 2010 election, and has been Shadow Health Secretary since 2011. Equally, though, he is quick to distance himself from the Westminster bubble, and he is justified in doing this – while he was in the Cabinet, he was nowhere near as embroiled in the New Labour administration as the Miliband brothers or Yvette Cooper. All of this adds up to create a strong individual identity that can appeal to voters we lost, especially as the situation under the Tories grows more dire.
The main criticism levelled at Andy is hypocrisy – that he cannot remove himself from the Westminster bubble he decries, because he went to Cambridge, and because of his position in Gordon Brown’s government. But I don’t believe this is true. He was the first member of his family to attend university, and has since said that while he was at Cambridge he felt like “an interloper waiting for a tap on the shoulder”. His parliamentary experience can actually be used to his advantage: to voters, it is trust-instilling proof of his ability and understanding of government. The ideas that Andy has outlined in his campaign so far are clearly left-wing: investment in the NHS, supporting technical education as well as university, and partnership between trade unions and government. If you’re an undecided Young Labour voter, take a look at his post-Budget statement which makes it clear that he will continue to support and fight for young people, against a government that is undeniably alienating us. We cannot veer to the right, as Liz Kendall would have us do, because it goes against everything that the Labour party should stand for – and the Tories will always do Tory better. In the past 5 years, Ed Miliband made great moves to distance Labour from the Blair administration, and to return it to its core value: social equality. The reason we lost the election was not a weak manifesto; the argument against inequality it laid out was extremely strong. The reason we lost was a combination of fear-mongering over the SNP and the right-wing press demonization of Miliband. As such, I believe Andy Burnham is the candidate best-equipped to fight the inevitable tabloid smear campaign come 2020. He is clear on the fact that Labour should “take care not to distance [themselves] from the past 5 years”; he is committed to social equality, and has the experience and deep-rooted support to carry it out (there’s a reason he received the most nominations and is the bookie’s favourite to win the leadership election).
However, there has been a huge swing from the Labour left-wing to Jeremy Corbyn. What I do appreciate that Corbyn has shifted the leadership debate significantly to left and away from a return to Blairite discourse; it’s also true to say that my politics are mostly aligned with his. But I just cannot excuse in my mind his continued association with Hezbollah and Hamas, and in particular with the anti-Semitic Raed Salah, who has been found guilty of spreading the blood libel (this open letter to Corbyn explains the issue in further detail). Corbyn’s unmitigating approach appeals to left-wingers within the Labour party, myself included, but I’m not convinced that he’ll be able to make it appeal to the rest of the country, and most importantly to the voters we need to win back. So while Andy Burnham’s policies may not be perfectly aligned with my own, he is the only candidate who I can support in good faith. If 2015 has proven anything to us, it’s that the wellbeing and livelihoods of the worst-off in society, those who Labour are supposed to be fighting for, relies on pragmatic voting. The outlook for the 2020 election is already pretty grim: with boundary changes and the loss of Scottish Labour, it’s extremely difficult for me to envision a Labour majority. But we need a strong leader to start to rebuild the trust we have lost throughout the country, and Andy Burnham is our best bet.
Words by Priya Bryant