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. Continue reading