TWO of Yorkshire’s senior Labour figures have thrown their support behind the party leadership ambitions of Andy Burnham who has emerged as the favourite in the race to succeed Ed Miliband.
Shadow Transport Secretary and Barnsley East MP Michael Dugher will manage Mr Burnham’s campaign while Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary and Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves is to head up his review of Labour’s economic policy.
Their early public endorsement represents a blow to the campaigns of fellow Yorkshire Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Mary Creagh with Mr Burnham, the Shadow Health Secretary, also expected to receive significant trade union backing.
Mr Burnham’s opponents fear Labour under his leadership would continue on the same path followed by Mr Miliband which ended in electoral disaster earlier this month.
But today he sought to present himself as the “change” candidate by suggesting Labour should be pressing for an earlier referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
During the campaign Mr Miliband had repeatedly argued against the need for a public vote on the EU.
Mr Burnham said: “I have said very clearly and quickly that we need to bring forward that referendum, because the worst of all worlds is a prolonged period of uncertainty and argument.
“I want to make the pro-European case in this referendum. It is clear to me that the British interest is in staying in the EU.
“But I am warning that we will only be able to win that argument if we have a credible package of reforms on immigration.
“The public are asking for this. If we don’t deliver it, if David Cameron does not deliver it then we will be sleepwalking to exit from the EU.”
Mr Dugher also stressed Labour had to change in the wake of its election defeat and was scathing about supporters who have suggested it is voters rather than the party who were to blame for its woes.
“The party that promised a referendum won an election, so I actually think the voters have spoken, so therefore the issue is about when do we do that,” he said.
“Anyone who thinks we were right and the voters were wrong is going to find it a very long road indeed back to power.”
The Barnsley East MP said Mr Burnham had the “reach” to connect with the corners of the country where Labour did so badly in the election.
He told Sky News: “It’s no good stacking up bigger majorities as we did in South Yorkshire, we have got to win on the south coast as well.
“Andy Burnham absolutely understands the scale of the challenge.
“He has made the start of his leadership campaign about the most difficult issues.”
Writing on Twitter, Ms Reeves said Mr Burnham had the “courage, vision and determination Labour needs” as she confirmed her support for his campaign.
It was reported Mr Burnham is keen to snap up as many nominations from MPs as possible to limit the field of potential rivals.
But Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna, who last week withdrew his bid to be the next Labour leader, said it is crucial that there is an open debate over who becomes the next leader of the party.
“We can’t have a coronation,” he said.
“We’ve seen where that’s got us in the past. No one group, organisation or person should be allowed to stand in the way of us having this debate and discussion.”
He told the Sunday Times he wants to lead Labour’s EU referendum campaign, and would like to be appointed Shadow Foreign Secretary.