Tom Richmond: Labour stuck in past with Teflon candidate Andy Burnham

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NOW favourite for the Labour leadership, Andy Burnham is already assured of one title – political hypocrite of the year – after he launched his campaign by distancing himself from his own political failings when he was a leading Cabinet minister in Gordon Brown’s government.

First the economy. The Shadow Health Secretary’s call for “an honest assessment of the record of the last Labour government on the economy” masks the fact that he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury from June 2007 to January 2008, and busy signing off the cheques, when the country’s finances were hitting the rocks.

Next Europe. Mr Burnham’s challenge to David Cameron to bring forward the proposed referendum on Britain’s European Union membership could not be more at odds with the Shadow Cabinet refusing to entrust the public with this issue prior to the election. If the candidate had doubts about this stance, why did he not say so at the time?

And then the unions. After declaring that donations from trade unions was “the cleanest money in politics”, Mr Burnham let slip that he had been in a dialogue with Unite’s leader Len McCluskey – public enemy number one. Is he in Unite’s pocket or not?

If this is Labour’s best hope, after Barnsley’s Dan Jarvis and Chukka Umunna stepped aside for widely differing reasons, it does not bode well for the Opposition.

Far from being the “change candidate”, Mr Burnham is a poor substitute for Ed Miliband. He refuses to accept his shortcomings on the economy, he had the nerve to criticise the Tories for not advancing the inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster when he had the chance to do so as Culture Secretary after his stint at the Treasury and then there his role as Health Secretary from June 2009 until May 2010 when the Brown government was put out of its misery by the electorate.

This coincided with the Mid Staffs scandal coming to light. His obfuscation on this could not contrast greater with his scare-mongering over the NHS – not least his claim that the Tories are privatising the National Health Service when it was Labour that offered the chance to the private sector to provide care. Talk about hypocrisy.

In many respects, Mr Burnham is the Teflon candidate – nothing has stuck. But, believe me, this is a deeply divisive politician whose entire modus operandi revolves around scare-mongering. And the more people see him in action, the more they will have reason to dislike him.

• CORRECTION: Regarding an earlier version of this column published on May 23 we acknowledge that a reference to ‘deaths of hundreds of patients’ at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust was inappropriate, as the number of deaths has never been officially confirmed. We acknowledge that Mr Burnham was not Health Secretary during the period in which the incidences of appalling care took place and we are happy to clarify that he made a written statement to the House of Commons announcing an independent inquiry.

UNLIKE some of her Labour leadership rivals, Wakefield MP Mary Creagh is slightly more plausible on the economy – despite her tendency to exemplify the very worst of the busybody “Nanny State” when first elected to Parliament. At one point, she tabled legislation calling for thermostatic valves to be fitted to baths to regulate water temperature.

She also said she would have introduced “free” bus travel for 16 to 21-year-olds to boost the life opportunities for young people rather than lowering the cost of university tuition fees in order to humiliate the Lib Dems. It is a policy suggestion worthy of further consideration – public transport costs can be a barrier to some attending college or work.

However, the use of the word “free” remains a misnomer. This is money that still has to be found from the public purse. As such, Ms Creagh – a politician with little profile beyond the Labour Party – might gain some credibility across the political spectrum if she used the phrase “taxpayer-subsidised” in future when discussing her bus policy.

I SEE Louise Haigh, the newly-elected Sheffield Heeley MP, has already made her mind up on Labour’s future approach before the party has even begun its various reviews into its election 
defeat.

She is the signatory of a letter calling for the election of a leader prepared to “take on the powerful vested interests of big businesses and will set out an alternative to austerity – not one who will draw back to the ‘New Labour’ creed of the past”. I’m probably not the only one left with the impression that the missive had been written by Unite’s Len McCluskey who is now vying with Nicola Sturgeon to become the most influential individual on the political left.

ASKED during the General Election to name her number one priority for Yorkshire schools, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan offered this one-word answer: “Leadership.”

It explains why the Queen’s Speech will give the Minister new powers to sack headteachers in “coasting” schools. However, Ms Morgan seems not to grasp the point that there simply are not enough successful headteachers who are prepared to oversee the management of a myriad of far-flung schools. She needs to listen to their concerns.

Yet, given the shortage of inspiring leaders, how about the heads of secondary schools being asked to supervise the performance of primary schools in the immediate catchment area? At least it would provide the opportunity for continuity as children progress through the years – and for secondary heads at the top of their profession to mentor a new generation of school leaders.

IN his new role as Vice Chamberlain of the Household, the duties of Keighley MP Kris Hopkins include writing a daily report to the Queen on proceedings in Parliament. I suggest that he includes as many references to horse racing as possible – the one thing that HMQ has 
in common with Alex Salmond is a mutual interest in the “sport of kings” and Ma’am will definitely want to know if the old rogue from Scotland has any decent tips.

FINALLY, Ukip’s infighting is continuing to prevent the party from removing its election posters that remain firmly fixed to trees in the vicinity of Rawdon Crematorium in Leeds. Has Nigel Farage and his acolytes no shame? Talk about thoughtless – and tactless.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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