Corbynism has already claimed its first major victim: Andy Burnham

by Frazer Loveman

It all looked to be so easy didn’t it? After the non-entry of Dan Jarvis and the non-start of Chuka Umunna’s campaign, only Yvette Cooper seemed to stand between Andy Burnham and the leadership of the Labour party. Burnham was probably the more well-known of the two, a politician who oozed humility and understanding.

People knew him for his admirable opposition to NHS re-structuring under Messers Lansley and Hunt and for his work in the Hillsborough campaign. He was also the best positioned to win. Cooper was likely to lose some support to Liz Kendall on the right of the party whilst Burnham had positioned himself to have clear run at the left of the party, whilst still being able to exist on the soft-left. He may have been something of continuity Miliband, but he was slightly more human than Miliband, and also probably more pragmatic.

The forced entry of Jeremy Corbyn into the race, however, has changed all that. Suddenly the leftist bloc vote that Burnham had been presuming would just fall into his camp had an alternative, but no worry, Burnham would still be in a strong position once he picked up Corbyn’s second preferences. However, Corbyn has turned out to be more than just an ‘alternative’ he’s morphed into a bizzare Marxist messiah. With members pledging themselves to the church of Corbyn to the extent that polling by YouGov now shows him to be the clear favourite in the contest, the other three candidates are now in the last chance saloon in terms of stopping the Corbyn tide.

Kendall has responded to Corbyn by doubling down on her position that Labour needs to be a fiscally responsible party in order to win elections, out of all the candidates she is the one who has done the most to challenge Corbyn head-on, and this has led to her being favourite to finish plum last. Cooper had been far more pragmatic. Though she has said that she wouldn’t serve under Corbyn she has been more civil in dismissing him, partly as her camp believed that she could still beat Corbyn on second preferences. Though in recent days even she has been forced into pointing out the flaws in Corbyn’s campaign; accusing him of trying to drag Labour back to the 1970s.

As Corbyn has become more entrenched in the race it has become harder for either Kendall or Cooper to challenge him without being attacked for ‘abandoning the cause’. They then get called Tories and Corbyn supporters strut around like they’ve won the argument because Corbyn’s commitment to his ‘values’ somehow trumps presenting a valid path to government before my generation hit our mid-life crises.

The metaphor used by Tony Benn that politicians are either “signposts or weathervanes” has been used a lot since SNP MP Mhairi Black deployed it during her storming maiden speech. Many in the Labour party point to Corbyn as being a true signpost, a man of principles who will restore true Labour values (which I presume means shouting really loudly at Conservative governments while they do whatever they like and win huge majorities) rather than the social democratic ideas that won Labour three straight elections- but he is a signpost nonetheless.

If Corbyn is a signpost then Burnham has, in this race, proved to be the exact opposite. I’d go as far to say that he is not even a weathervane; he is the political equivalent of a Portuguese Man O’ War, brainlessly floating along on the tide of whatever political idea happens to be prevailing that week. The first sign that he was wavering was the Welfare Bill farce as he toed the party line in abstaining on the bill before coming out and saying that, actually, Labour shouldn’t have abstained (for the record, what Labour did was perfectly reasonable, as Andrew Gwynne MP explains here).

Following on from that he has lurched to the left in supporting public bids on expiring rail franchises (which isn’t quite re-nationalisation, but he’s calling it that because it seems all left-wing and trendy) and has now climaxed with a spectacular U-Turn on supporting military action in Syria, declaring on Monday that he could block any move by the government to sanction strikes.

This shouldn’t actually be a huge surprise, Burnham was a Blairite under Blair; a Brownite under Brown and a Milibandite (if that was a thing?) under Miliband- why not add Corbynite to that list? He has already tried to take a conciliatory tone, suggesting that Corbyn would serve in his shadow cabinet and that he wouldn’t mind serving in a Corbyn cabinet. Burnham’s campaign has been symptomatic of the entire rise of Corbyn, that in order to win he has to shift left, rather than stand up and challenge Corbyn. It appears now that, even if their man suffers a shock defeat, the Corbynites will declare victory as they have foisted their agenda on the Labour party and can no longer be ignored. They will argue that Labour can’t be ‘Tory-lite’ and must offer the ‘politics of hope’, regardless of whether it’s actually economically viable.

Burnham’s now falling into the Miliband trap of pledging loads of things that are popular with voters with no proof that he can pay for them, and it’s all because he seems to want to win regardless of the effect on his party. If he is now elected leader he will be so having sold out to the party’s left, and will have to try and win an election with a Corbynite anchor tied to his ankles. Corbyn and his supporters aren’t shifting the Overton window, they are preparing to defenestrate the Labour party through it and into electoral oblivion, and now Burnham, in his desperate bid to win the leadership at all costs, appears to be preparing to jump out with them.

Frazer Loveman is a history and politics student at the University of Southampton

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11 Responses to “Corbynism has already claimed its first major victim: Andy Burnham”

  1. swatantra says:

    Corbyn may well have convinced myself and the members to vote for him, but the question is will he convince the average voter out there that doesn’t trust Labour tl run a whelk stall. The likelihood is that he will, as long as he maintains a moderate stance and does not lurch the Right or Left. Steady as She goes is the cry, otherwise we will drop the pilot say the electorate. One thing you must never do is frighten the horses or the mules or the asses that could swing the GE for you. but at the same time there must be no kowtowing to marginal groups that do not hold democracy dear.

  2. John P. Reid says:

    Funny manAndrew Gwynne, doesn’t realize he’s not any good at presenting views , verbally,as he’s so obsessed with the Internet.

  3. Tafia says:

    Burnham………… a politician who oozed humility and understanding.

    You are taking the piss.

  4. Janice says:

    You don’t like him? fine. But this article seems to me too much like middle class sneering. I note the writer is a history and politics student. I suspect, though I don’t know for sure, that Burnham is more an instinctive politician, rather than one who has based his politics on the sort of theory that comes with a degree in ppe, or even history and politics.

    This is probably partly because his constituency is an outer suburb of manchester so the sort of intellectual theoretical debate that goes on in places like islington just doesn’t happen there.

    So he has, until now, had no need to develop his political instinct into something more intellectual and theoretical, in its foundation.

    I might be wrong, but I suspect that is why he was so thrown by the campaign, and the unexpected nature of it, but you never know he may grow as a result of this experience.

    I’m still voting for him anyway, the alternatives are far worse.

  5. Mike says:

    swatantra – you say Corbyn just needs to go steady as she goes and not veer left or right. He is already on the far left and I am not sure why he has been in the Labour party for the last 20 years. He should have joined TUSC or the Greens.
    Labour will not get elected with a policy of 70% tax (mentioned in his Newsnight interview), nationalising many industries again and other left wing policies.
    It is true that some are popular (Labour ran with some in 2015, to no good effect), but as the article on shows the public also support far right policies such as no immigration for 2 years, the death penalty etc.
    What does matter is credibility and leadership. He will be leading a parliamentary party where only 9 members are in the campaign group.

    As for this article – it is very accurate, Burnham has been all over the place and changing his mind often.

  6. Frazer,

    “They will argue that Labour can’t be ‘Tory-lite’ and must offer the ‘politics of hope’, regardless of whether it’s actually economically viable.”

    Of course it has to be viable. What’s the alternative to saying that? If we say there’s no hope and nothing can be afforded then capitalism itself if finished. We’ll be looking, sooner or later, at USSR style forced collectivisation. I don’t want that thank you very much.

    The simple fact is that is we can solve the problem of homelessness and unemployment simulatanoeously if we have the bricks and the cement. We just have to create the right economic conditions for it all to happen. It was all worked out by Keynes and Lerner over 70 years ago.

    Its really no problem at all once we ditch the ideas of neo-liberal economics.

  7. Mike Stallard says:

    There are a very great number of older voters who can remember what it was like when they were 18 years old. They far outnumber the other lots. Mr Corbyn speaks to their hearts in a way that Mr Blair did not. Sort of Labour Ukip.
    At schools the general tenor is fairly liberal and leftish (I am involved) and you have to be careful about the vulnerable, global warming, sexism, renewables and defence. Hence the surprising number of very young voters who support Mr Corbyn.
    I suppose the Radio 4 types – 40 years old who are still young at heart when they go to Greenpeace rallies and have an immigrant for their nanny – go for the other 3.

  8. Tafia says:

    An example of Burnham’s “humilty and understanding”

    In the now unlikely event that this goes to second preferences and he ends up winning, he will be hit round the head with things like this and Mid-Staffs, week in, week out at PMQs, live in HD TV.

  9. Madasafish says:

    Burnham is a third rate politician who is not very good at his trade.

    “Save the NHS” did not win votes in 2010. So it was repeated in 2015.
    “Stop NHS privatisation” is parrotted by the same politician who did more whenhe was in power to privatise the NHS than the Tories have done.

    “Third rate” is perhaps an exaggeration – maybe “fourth rate”? Whatever, he’s got a track record of political and executive incompetence.

  10. john P Reid says:

    Labour uncut is in danger of disapearing up itself
    When Ken Livingstone lost the 2008 mayoral election h balmed the party, yet he got on second preferences 104,000 more votes in 2008 than 2000, at the time Labour home was full of comments that he was right to invite ther IRA with openarms,but within a year, it was pointed out why didn’t he invite the UDA then, and 2 years ago, Labour list was arguin gthat Ed miliband was right to sawng to the left and Expel progres smagaine, but since moderation ,those defending progress disapeared, why labour uncut has endless Corbyn is a disaster articles, it’ll just drive those form the left of the party from reading ,articles here

    Even If Corbyn doesn’t win it’ll be the fear if 10 years form now Labour forms a government,that the hard left can oust a future PM, take October 74 people who voted Laobur then never thought that If wilson went that Foot would take over,but he nealry did, and mnay who voted Laobur in 74 didn’t in 1983, so how could a future moderate laobur leader be took serious

    Whar if Corbyn wins Laobur uncut will just seize to exist for 5 years

  11. Madasafish says:

    If Corbyn wins – and whether or not he wins the next General Election (which could very well be possible) – Labour’s reputation for economic competence will be utterly destroyed for at least a decade..

    That is not to say Labour will not win a GE in that time if the Tories split over Europe or the economy goes mammaries up.

    I agree with John Reid above – the anti Corbyn articles on here are hysterical. Not hysterically funny but hysterical..

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