Andy Burnham, the Shadow Home Secretary for the Labour Party since 2015, has recently declared his desire to run for the mayoral candidacy of Greater Manchester and of course we wish the best candidate plenty of luck in the mayoral run. However, given his position as a potential future Home Secretary, has Mr Burnham purposefully demoted his role on the national scale?
If this were to be the case, it might remind of us of a certain former mayor, the now Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip Boris Johnson. Before taking the role of Mayor of London, Mr Johnson had already been elected as MP for Henley in 2001, served as Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries and then as Minister for Higher Education under Michael Howard and David Cameron’s Shadow Cabinet. However, rather than maintaining his post in the Shadow Cabinet , Johnson instead decided to run for Mayor in 2008 where he beat the Incumbent Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone who himself has resurfaced in the news lately after controversially promoting anti-Semitism.
Despite the seeming demotion in stature, Mr Johnson has certainly done well in terms of name recognition from his role as mayor. Though not the most politically earth shattering mayor ever, Boris has become infamous after getting stuck on a zip wire while promoting the 2012 London Olympics, his bid to cover the roof of an Olympic stadium in rhubarb so as to create more jobs for rhubarb farmers, his encouragement to entice Londoners to take up cycling in the streets of the city and his outlandish sense of hair maintenance (a trait which Mr Burnham thankfully does not share).
The Labour Mayoral candidate does share an interest in people cycling though:
During Boris’ tenure as mayor it was often suggested by pundits that he may well turn his sights to the PM spot at some point, although more out of jest than sincerity. Despite this suggestion and his apparent name recognition, he seems not to have this aim at the moment given his decision to throw himself in with the ‘Brexit’ campaign in the EU referendum, a choice which no doubt has distanced himself from the Prime Minister’s good books. Still, it cannot be argued that Mr Johnson’s time as mayor has greatly increased his fame both nationally and internationally due to hosting the Olympics.
Mr Burnham seems to now be in a similar position as Boris was back in 2008, leaving what would seem to be a superior position in favour of something which will grant influence in the short term and may produce name value over time. However, there may be a more substantial interpretation of his decision when expanded on to a wider context.
This month saw local elections in which Labour were hounded by the press for losing much of their influence in Scotland and with politicians aiming their daggers at the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, Labour desperately needs good reports in the coming months in order to reinforce Corbyn’s leadership. Admittedly, the Conservatives did lose far more support locally but after Labour was humiliated during the General Election last year people have been quick to point out that the labour recovery has been too slow.
Given the circumstances, one might therefore suggest that this move to run for the Greater Manchester position as mayor may not only be an attempt for name recognition as it was for Mr Johnson but also an attempt to cement Labour control in the North. In an interview with the Guardian, Burnham said: “The mistake Labour made in Scotland was that when devolution came, we didn’t field our biggest names and consequently it looked like we didn’t take it seriously enough. We can’t make that mistake again.” He later added that “For me this is a cabinet-level job, which needs cabinet-level experience. And it needs somebody who is going to devote themselves to it and grab it with both hands.”
Despite simplifying their defeat in Scotland, it seems Mr Burnham may have a point. Labour and all fellow opposition parties have met much abuse from Conservative and SNP media over the last year in England and Scotland so it seems there is a genuine urgency to reinforce what control Labour does still hold.
Have Labour really become so desperate now that they need to sacrifice their “biggest names” in order to amend for the mistakes of the past? What threat can Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet pose if Labour intends to sacrifice its ministers in order to hold onto its territories? Finally, do you think Andy Burnham is the right person for the role of mayor in Greater Manchester?