When Andy Burnham is asked a question, he gives it some thought. And then he gives you an actual answer. Sitting in his Parliamentary office in Norman Shaw South, Burnham tells it how it is, no matter how deliberate the grimaces from his team. The result is a genuine response from a man who’s answering on normal terms. He’s got time for everyone; chatting to researchers in the corridor when we arrive, and he’s got plenty to say about the campaign. But even now he’s aware that playing nice is often read as lacking strength. He talks to Labour Uncut about career politics, Christianity, Everton and his eyelashes.
Q. (from Luke Charters-Reid): What would you do to revitalise the party for young people, to attract young members who are essentially the Labour cabinet in 40 years time.
A. Well, we’ve got to make Labour the natural home for all young people who want to change the world. As I did, and as I still do. When I was fifteen, I wanted to change the world. That’s why I joined Labour. But we lost a sense of it when we were in government. So, what would I do? I had a meeting on Saturday with Manchester young Labour and the young Fabians and we had a really good discussion about this.
I think you’ve got to rethink through what is a young person’s introduction to Labour when they join. And I don’t think we should immediately assign them to a branch or a ward and then a constituency. I think the first contact they should have is from a young labour group in their locality. Because I think too many might fall at the first hurdle. They get the first contact and go to a meeting that they basically don’t relate to and we’ve got to rethink our introductory approach to people joining the Labour party. They’re joining it to change the world and to change policy. And we’ve got to make sure that their first experience of labour is inspiring, why they think they’ve joined. And we also have to think about how we can connect them immediately to the policy discussion and how to change the world. Sadly, the party’s not done what it says on the tin. That’s what they thought they were getting when they joined and they often turn up at meetings finding they’re talking about the minutes of the last meeting or the yellow lines by the chippy or something like that. That for me…we’ve got to rethink what is their introduction to Labour.
Q. (from Samuel): Will you pledge to increase the international development budget to 1% or do you think 0.7% is high enough?
A. Point seven’s high enough for now, because we’re only on the way to meeting 0.7 but we need to, even though times are tough, redouble our efforts to help people around the world. Labour is internationalist in its outlook. I think we’ve always got to set a moral lead on this. We’re a country that can afford to, to help others. So let’s meet 0.7 first. And let’s stick to our guns and get there.
Q. (from Michael): Hi Andy, you have talked about ‘career politicians’, what other jobs have you done?
A. I have had four or five jobs outside of politics. I began life after university on the Middleton Guardian in Manchester, which is just a local paper, and I was an unpaid journalist. I couldn’t afford to carry on working without pay, so in the end took a job with a company called Baltic Publishing which had some deeply glamorous titles, such as Tank World, Container Management and Passenger Rail Management, and I actually lived in fear throughout the 1990s that they’d turn up on Have I Got News for You. Thankfully they never did. It would have been an object of ridicule to my mates if Tank World had ended up as the guest publication, and it was that kind of place. It wasn’t the job I wanted. I wanted journalism. And it was journalism of a kind. I did that until early 1994 after graduating in 1991, then I had a lucky break that got me into politics. And I had two other jobs, I did NHS Confederation for a while and I worked on the football task force, so I’ve had about five or six years on other jobs.
Q. Does it annoy you that people think you’re a career politician?
A. Erm….a bit. I wouldn’t want to be too put out by it, because obviously I’ve spent a lot of my life in politics. So in many ways, for most people, I’d kind of fit that bill. But a couple of things make me different. I’ve done other jobs, and pretty difficult, unglamorous ones at times. And I represent my home seat of Leigh. That often isn’t what people associate with a career politician. I went to Leigh when Laurence Cunliffe resigned. I lived back at home with my mum and dad, and basically worked on it for a year. It was pretty much a year where I campaigned solidly every weekend to win the nomination for Leigh. And (to his campaign manager) Kevin remembers that era well don’t you?
Campaign Manager Kevin: too well.
A: So nobody parachuted me in. Nobody gave me a ‘oh well, I’ll speak to this person, speak to that, all these doors will open’; none of that happened. I went up there, based myself there, knocked on every door of every member and won the Leigh nomination through grassroots campaigning. In many ways as a parallel to what I’m doing now in this leadership election. The establishment isn’t necessarily helping me; the media establishment, the union establishment. Even the Labour establishment. My connection is with the grassroots, ordinary members.
Q. (from Terry): what’s your position on votes at sixteen?
A. I think I’m not 100% certain, but I think I’m in favour of it. It’s the age at which we’re saying people are basically part of adult life. And I think it would encourage politicians to think and speak more about younger people’s issues than they currently do. There is a danger with it that it could depress turnout. We’re always saying turnout at elections isn’t high enough but it could depress turnout at elections because obviously you’re increasing the electorate and it’s still the case that people under 25 are the least likely to vote and it could make it look like an even smaller percentage of the public is engaging in politics. I don’t think it’s a silver bullet to problems of lack of engagement in politics. I think I’m persuaded that it’s a good idea though.
Q. The public want to know about your eyelashes.
A. Wonderful. I’m beginning to hate Labour Uncut, I’d prefer Labour Cut.
Q. (from Emma) Have your super long, and v gorgeous, eyelashes been a help or a hindrance to your political career? X
A. Hindrance. Thanks for the kiss, whoever…
A. Thanks for the kiss Emma, but it kind of…it gets mentioned a lot. And I can prove that there isn’t any artificial enhancement.
Q. Has anyone accused you of there being enhancement?
A. Yes, the Daily Mail called me minister for makeup. They claimed that I’d put mascara on, I think it was on Question Time one week.
Q. There’s a lot of money to be made in L’Oreal advertising though..
A. Because I’m worth it! No that’s the hair stuff isn’t it. Er…it’s a hindrance. It’s done slightly to…denigrate. A lack of seriousness or whatever. ‘Doe-eyed’ is the phrase they use all the time which is somewhat annoying, you know, but I’ll make no more of it. I’m not…actually not bothered by it. So it’s fine.
Q. Are you sure?
A. (laughs) -ish. (through gritted teeth).
Q. Does it bother you that people think you’re the nice guy of this campaign?
A. No I’m quite happy. I am an approachable kind of person. I think my appeal, for want of a better word, in this campaign is that I’m down to earth. Somebody who’s…I like to think I’m talking to people on their level; as comfortable in the working men’s club as I am in a committee room here in Westminster. So I think I’d argue that was one of my strengths. What people shouldn’t confuse is being approachable with not having strengths. I am a conviction politician; I have things that I feel passionately and strongly about. And when I do feel strongly about those things I am prepared to drive it through and face down the odds of the opposition. I changed policy as health secretary on use of the private sector in the NHS; some believed I was breaking new Labour tablets of stone when I did it but I did it because I believed it was right, because I also feel at times that new Labour didn’t at times realise that it mattered to NHS staff that they work for the NHS. That’s what motivates them, that’s what they’re inspired by. And I also took on a very difficult argument about the Hillsborough tragedy and release of documents relating to Hillsborough. Because I’ve got strong convictions and I will pretty much drive them through. So people shouldn’t mistake ‘approachable’ for ‘lacking strength’.
Q. (from Dan) In your opinion should Capello have listened to the fans at the World Cup and gone 4-3-3?
A. Er…I think this is a reference to the fact that Lampard and Gerrard don’t work in the middle of the field. Would I have gone 4-3-3, I don’t think so, no. The manager will do what he thinks is right and I know it didn’t work out for us but I think Capello is a great manager.
Q. (from Jackie): If you had the choice between playing for Everton in an FA cup final, or become the next Labour Prime Minister which would you chose?
A. (after exactly two seconds) Everton, FA Cup final.
press secretary: (howls) No!
Q. That is a bold statement!
press secretary: I’m going to kill him.
Q. She is going to strangle you when I leave.
press secretary: I am.
Campaign manager Kevin: Can you re-answer that one please Andy.
A. Well it’s a different choice isn’t it! That [playing in the FA Cup final] is like a one-off thing isn’t it!
Q. (to press secretary) I don’t think that’s the worst answer you know.
A. (to press secretary) Yeah.
Q. ok then, next..
A. Yeah, next!
Campaign manager Kevin: no you really need to re-answer that one.
A. Ok. Labour Prime Minister.
Q. (from Ian) What role do you think your faith would play if you became leader?
A. Faith is important but it’s important for me in this way: the values I was hearing about growing up, at church, were replicated in the Labour party. So I have never and never will make any differentiation between that. What you might call Christian values are essentially socialism to me. Equality of every human life, the idea that we should love each other as ourselves, that we should be the good samaritan. So all that for me, when I heard it, I made no differentiation between what Labour stood for and about the church and what I was being taught about at school. So for me the values are the thing. And I love that Nye Bevan quote, “the NHS is a little piece of Christianity and a little bit of socialism too” or something, I love that. And that for me is how religion informs politics.
Q. (from Tom French) Do you support lifting the ban on same-sex marriage?
A. I do. As I say, I believe in absolute equality. I don’t believe in second class arrangements. I think everyone should have the same access to the same security and permanence in their relationships, and that that should be fully recognised in the law. So yes I support gay marriage 100 percent. I believe in society recognising commitment in relationships and I wholeheartedly support that.
Q. According to Pink News you have the worst voting record for LGBT rights of the five Labour leadership candidates. What do you think about that?
A. I think it’s unfair because they calculated it by saying I missed two votes on gay adoption. In fact I voted on the main vote on gay adoption. In fact, from memory I really had to kind of rearrange things to be there because I really wanted to be there. But the reason I missed the other two votes, which were subsidiary votes; one was on the programme of the motion and one was on the timetable of the motion, was because my daughter was being born. It was I think the 18th, 19th May 2002; Rosie was born on 19th May and she was two weeks overdue, so I was down here but on tenterhooks basically. Hopefully people would realise that’s a good reason why I missed the vote even if it was a very important vote.
And the other issue is around IVF for lesbian couples. I voted for an amendment that stipulated that there should be a named father figure to support the child and that’s why I voted for it. I wasn’t voting against IVF for lesbian couples.
Q. Has that got anything to do with your religion?
A. Maybe. It has something to do with background I suppose. You know, upbringing, and I suppose when you come through a Catholic education as I did you have a certain sphere of reference and outlook. But the other thing I would say about this is that as an MP I have felt myself repeatedly at odds with the church. The Catholic church in my view has lobbied MPs in a very unsophisticated way. It takes these moral issues which are actually in shades of grey in my view, all of them; there are degrees. They’re not black and white. And I’ve often found myself alienated from the approach that they take on lobbying. So it’s often been the case that faith hasn’t informed. I’ve often found myself frustrated by the absolutist position that they take.