Note: Ed Miliband also addressed Brussels Labour on the same evening. For a summary of his meeting, click here.
Andy Burnham, MP for Leigh and former health secretary, was the third leadership candidate to address Brussels Labour. He laid out his vision for the future of the Labour Party and his thoughts on Europe, making his case to be Labour’s next leader.
He started with a bold statement that underlines what he considers to be his unique selling point: “I can give Labour something the Tories don’t have, I can connect to the people who thought Labour wasn’t on their side”. He said Labour did many good things in government, was right to be pro-business and to support job and wealth creation, but slipped up when it appeared anti-union, and seduced by power.
Andy Burnham said that immigration was the biggest issue on the doorstep during the election campaign and that we have to deal with it directly, adding that it was the failure to deal with the knock-on effects of immigration (on housing, benefits, and public services) that was the problem. “People are not xenophobic,” he said, “but we hadn’t helped them deal with change.” He maintained that free movement of labour in Europe should be a priority, especially since it is a two-way street.
Andy pointed out that his own Dad worked abroad when it was tough finding work in the UK. He acknowledged that those in Westminster did not listen to what Labour MEPs were saying about equipping people with the skills and protections to face the reality of a more mobile workplace – for example, through the Directives on agency and posted workers.
Andy made it clear that he did not just want to talk to the Labour heartlands, and that Labour needs to be credible in opposition. However, it is important to oppose cuts to the future jobs fund, the reduction in university places, and cuts to the Sheffield forge masters. He pointed out that the LibDems had campaigned for cuts to be delayed until the recovery was secured, so he argued that there is not a democratic mandate for cutting the budget now, as the coalition is set on doing (and as demonstrated the following day in the emergency budget).
Andy Burnham said that it is important to make a positive case for Europe, and for Labour to be the internationalist force in British politics. He said we to communicate better the successes that have been achieved at the European level – for example, on passenger rights and on mobile roaming charges. He admitted that the proper case for a Europe that improves the lives of ordinary people had not yet been made – and yet it could be, with good news on tackling bankers’ bonuses and on workers’ protection. Now is the time to point out that by isolating themselves, and aligning themselves with the far right-wing in the European Parliament, the Tories have lost their influence. In contrast, he said, Labour should come together with the wider Labour family, including the unions and sister parties, to make a progressive case for fair politics.
Following his speech, Andy fielded questions on reform of the House of Lords; reconnecting with voters in the south; immigration; income inequality; overseas’ voting rights and the right of Labour International to make a supporting nomination in the leadership campaign.
Andy said he favoured a wholly elected second chamber, setting out an innovative indirect electoral system whereby seats in the House of Lords would be allocated on a regional basis under proportional representation, based on the share of the vote from the General Election. This would maintain primacy of the House of Commons, but would also give the Lords legitimacy.
Regarding reconnecting with the south, Andy referred (as did David Miliband in his address to Brussels Labour) to Giles Radice’s 1990s pamphlet, ‘Sothern Discomfort’, saying that we need to get back in touch with ordinary people across the country, and overcome the perception that Labour was helping people who did not help themselves, which led to a sense of unfairness.
On immigration, Andy Burnham said that he had no regrets about his role in the Home Office in the run up to the 2004 enlargement of the EU. Now, it is important to get the balance right on immigration policy, although “we mustn’t have a bidding war” on who can be toughest on immigration.
Andy said he disagreed with Peter Mandelson about it not mattering if people get “filthy rich”. He said that we have seen the highest earners’ wages increasing, whilst those on middle incomes were staying more or less the same. He gave the example of footballers’ wages, and said that Labour had not used its values to tackle wealth at the highest level. He said that there is a big difference between working hard yourself, and gambling with other people’s money.
As a demonstration of Labour’s values for the 21st century, Andy Burnham proposed a new National Care Service, to mirror the crowning achievement of Labour in the 20th century, the NHS. He said we should celebrate longer life, and should free people from worry about the costs of care through a 10% estate levy. This would still leave 90% as an inheritance, whereas a voluntary private insurance scheme would cost up to 50% of a person’s estate. The beauty of this proposal is that you do not pay whilst you are alive, so you can enjoy your hard-earned wealth.
Andy was then questioned on the monarchy, public schools, tax policy and the working time directive.
He responded that his own story influenced all his thinking as a politician. He still believes that the elites that run society are incredibly hard to break in to, and he always expected a tap on the shoulder saying “you don’t belong here”. He added that the cards are stacked against those who do not have connections, which perpetuates an unequal system. As a first step, he recommended that all internships should be advertised.
Andy said that he does not rail against the monarchy, which is important to many people. However, he attacked privilege elsewhere, saying that the charitable status of independent schools does need to be questioned, and that he is strongly against selection in state schools.
On tax policy, Andy said that we needed to challenge the Tory claim that Labour wasted money. Labour’s investment has significantly improved the NHS, but it is still only about average amongst EU member states. The Tories’ proposal on scrapping the 18-week waiting list target will take power away from the patient, when “we sweated blood to get the waiting lists down.”
On the Working Time Directive, Andy Burnham pointed out that implementing it had posed a challenge to the health service, but that the opt-out was not permanent and that the NHS did not collapse last summer when it ended.
All in all, Andy Burnham gave a convincing account of how to reconnect with not just traditional core Labour voters, but the wider public, through a reconnection with Labour values, promoting fairness in Europe and building relationships across the Labour movement.
Photos of the event are on our Flickr page.
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