Andy Burnham pitches to Labour leadership voters in NI: comprehensive not selective education, gay blood, & candidates

This morning’s Belfast Telegraph publishes a statement from UK Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham. He’s the bookies’ favourite to come second, and clearly the candidate the local Constituency Labour Party members are most comfortable with.

610,000 ballot papers have been issued to party members, registered supporters and affiliate supporters. There are around 500 1,000 members of the Labour Party in NI, but an unknown number of registered or affiliate supporters.

Andy Burnham links to Scotland Wales Northern IrelandHeavily tailored for the NI audience, Burnham’s statement remarks on his pride in “family roots in the North of Ireland”. As leader he’d campaign for the 2020 General Election “on true Labour values and with bold Labour policies” if they can “be seen as a credible Party of government and … rebuild trust on the economy”.

For people in Northern Ireland, the prospect of another five years of Tory-imposed austerity must be extremely worrying. I believe that we can build a credible economic alternative to the Tories. An alternative approach based on a high-wage, high-skill economy; an economy that drives growth through a new industrial strategy and where trade unions are recognised as partners, not enemies, by government.

As leader he promises that the Labour Party in NI would have his “full support” in campaigning against the continued existence of selective education in NI.

I also believe in a truly comprehensive education system with opportunity for every child that isn’t determined by the postcode of the bed they are born in.

Burnham acknowledges LPNI campaigning on “the whole area of sexual and gender rights in Northern Ireland” which, he says, “needs to take a major step forward”. It’s an issue he has addressed in the Commons and in previous interviews.

I have been highly critical in Parliament of Jeremy Hunt for his refusal to support equality across the UK in respect of blood donation from gay men and, as Leader, I will use every opportunity to press the Tory Government on these fundamental issues of equality and rights.

Unlike Jeremy Corbyn, who recently told the West Belfast Talks Back audience that he would not use his position as leader to lobby the National Executive Committee to review the party’s policy on not standing candidates in Northern Ireland, Andy Burnham would support “an immediate review of the current prohibition”.

I am a long term supporter of the principle that the members of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland should have the right to decide when and where they want to stand candidates in elections. If those members decide that at election time the people of Northern Ireland need a socialist, non-sectarian party to vote for, a party that can appeal to people of all classes and to people of all faiths or none, then we should not stand in their way.

He added that the review would “seek the views of the Irish Labour Party and others, as to how best we can assist the very many Labour Party members and supporters in Northern Ireland”.

Burnham’s statement finishes:

The uncomfortable truth is that too many people look at our Party and see an out of touch Westminster elite. Unless we have a Leader who can reconnect our Party with the people whose trust we’ve lost, we won’t be implementing any of our policies – because nobody will be listening to what we have to offer.

I want the people of Northern Ireland to make their voices heard in the Labour Party and if I am elected Leader, I’ll ensure that the Party is listening.

In other news, Yvette Cooper has called for Andy Burnham to pull out of the leadership election since – in her eyes – he doesn’t offer a clear alternative to Jeremy Corbyn. Nothing like a candidate in third place trying to distract the runner ahead to sneak up the medal table …

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  • Ernekid

    I really doubt he’ll commit to this. There’s no real room in the electoral market for the Labour Party in NI. I’d be a waste of resources and if be embarrassing if they did what the Tories did and ship a bunch of English people over with no connection to NI.

    I doubt he’d be able to make a pact with the Irish Labour Party either as they are sitting at 6% in the polls and will likely be wiped out like the Lib Dems in the Irish election next year.

    It annoys me when English politicians try to stick their oars into the politics over here. When they haven’t a clue about what’s going on.

    Burnham is a cynical flip flopper who is just saying this as a desperate ploy to try to get votes from the saddos over here who are naive enough to think that if Labour did run candidates here that they would actually make an impact.

  • chrisjones2

    “the politics over here” – you mean in part of the UK that without them is forced to be a political ghetto

    But hardly worth getting excited about. He is toast

  • 23×7

    This would be a long overdue development. We need a cross community liberal party to break the deadlock at Stormont.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Well, if the polls are to be believed, it doesn’t matter what he thinks as he won’t be leader anyway!

    But I can see that in the current circumstances a Labour leadership might as well allow local members in NI to contest elections. The problems with such a step which were outlined very ably on Slugger a couple of months ago remain. But if the NI Labour folks successfully position themselves as part of the party’s process of renewal and reconnection with grass roots all over the UK, they might have a chance of overcoming those arguments.

    They would still have to come up with a good argument in favour of Labour stabbing the SDLP in the back, and show some evidence beyond wishful thinking that they have any chance of winning anything at all anywhere. Those are two pretty serious challenges.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Labour are not actually a liberal party!

  • Nicholas Whyte

    In fairness to Burnham, he hasn’t flip flopped on this. But I think starry-eyed enthusiasts should be reminded that all he has done is commit to refer the question to the National Executive Committee, which may choose to maintain the current position for reasons outlined elsewhere.

  • 23×7

    Well they aren’t socialist so what are they?

  • Ernekid

    They aren’t anything anymore but a metropolitan neoliberal party. That’s why they need Corbyn to connect to their roots.

  • 23×7

    Is that not what I said? Even neoliberal would be better than what we have in Stormont at the moment.

  • murdockp

    The zimmer frames of the SDLP leadership will be shaking with this sort of news!

  • murdockp

    a monkey with a piece of chalk and blackboard with a yes or no box that he randomally ticks would be a better decision maker that the stormont executive.

  • murdockp

    I disagree. a proper labour movement will do well but not this SDLP middle class eliteist nationalist rubbish

  • I feel similar about Northern Irish, Scottish & Welsh MPs poking their noses into and voting on English issues when they are entirely unaccountable to the English electorate.

  • Kevin Breslin

    One of the things that bothers me on the Labour Party leadership question is the assumption that the party consists of a hierarchical leader and the challengers will either join the backbenches or defect. Is that social democracy?

    Are we really going to believe that Burnham, Copper etc. are going to go the way of David Miliband rather than work under Corbyn?

    To be honest I don’t see much difference between what Burnham and Corbyn want for Northern Ireland, both are realistic than neither are going to change the type of people that Labour Northern Ireland would have to deal with at the doorstep. And LPNI’s ban in Northern Ireland is probably Labour constitution matter, rather than a Labour leader matter.

    Unless of course Corbyn simply doesn’t want Labour standing in Northern Ireland simply because being committed to passing abortion laws, equal marriage laws and blood ban laws even against the wishes of Stormont, he probably views himself as Labour NI. 😉

  • Kevin Breslin

    All Burnham would have to do is not stand in the way of Labour NI trying to stand. This is pretty much a matter for Labour UK and it’s constitution, evangelizing to their own party.

    I don’t see Labour NI being a spoiler candidate to the SDLP in a non-FPTP elections because Arrow’s Law is completely mitigated in that sense, and the reason why the SDLP did not get the transfer was simply down to the SDLP.

    Being dragged into a “vote Labour NI, get DUP/Unity candidate” — scenario in South Belfast, East Belfast or Fermanagh-South Tyrone might not be attractive either, regardless of the SDLP’s involvement.

    On the Irish Labour matter, if Labour does fall to 6% there will certainly be a lot of pressure for a left-wing realignment particularly as Sinn Féin move towards the center ground. Could the egos of the Socialist Party, Worker’s Party, People Before Profit, the Anti-Austerity Alliance etc. and Independents and Trade Union leaders put their common causes before personal success to form a new Irish Labour party?

    Say what you like about Irish Labour or the SDLP, they do have a track record of forming coalitions for the better or worse of things, Sinn Féin to some extent too.

  • GEF

    At present the Unionists hold the level of power in the NI Assembly with 54 Unionists to 43 SF/SDLP and 11 Alliance, Greens & Independents. Only if SF/SDLP gain a majority in 2016 election will the gay blood issue be reversed. Andy Burnham or Jeremy Corbyn are not standing for the 2016 MLA election.

  • Kevin Breslin

    To be honest, is it possible the DUP could change their mind on the male having sex with male having a future blood transfusion issue issue?

    Yes, a hell of a lot more likely than on equal marriage or any relaxation on abortion on demand.

    Simon Hamilton has been keen to push the fact that the DUP’s stance is one of scepticism rather than faith.

    However while the Republic of Ireland’s drawn out review of the matter gives the impression mainstream unionist parties and their supporters within Northern Ireland are not this island’s only sceptics.

    At the moment the DUP can point to a gay male ex-doctor as health minister waiting on Irish epidemiologists and medical professionals to back up the case made by their fellow professionals and specialists in the UK.

  • Reader

    Burnham: I also believe in a truly comprehensive education system with
    opportunity for every child that isn’t determined by the postcode of the
    bed they are born in.

    Locally, there are Grammar schools all over the place, rather than restricted geographically as in England. His rhetoric is out of place. It looks like Burnham hasn’t done his homework.

  • Barneyt

    If Labour extend to NI, they should surely do so as an extension of Labour, rather than bespoke it or set up an affiliate. It should be called simply Labour. If this do this, it creates a stronger UK tie, and lifts them above the local squabbling in many ways.

    Certainly the SDLP will take the biggest hit. If indeed Sinn Fein continue to move to the centre and appear to moderate their tone from an SDLP perspective, I can see defections to Sinn Fein. It will surely spell the end for the SDLP

    We should not underestimate the potential political outlet it gives to disenfranchised unionists. If they offer a unionist Labour option that is fully and wholly part of the UK wide labour party, they will attract votes from working class and perhaps some middle class (unlikely) unionist areas. I see the PUP and to some extent the DUP feeling the pinch.

    They are unlikely to attract Sinn Fein voters, unless Sinn Fein has started to attract folks who are prepared to vote on political leaning rather than tribalism. I’m guess the numbers here are few.

    I think Sinn Fein are likely to be the biggest beneficiary of such a move, even if they do take the Labour NI route.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Frankly, your solutions are perhaps what’s wrong with the Labour Party … greater centralization means greater detachment.

    Gordon Brown effectively won the Scottish independence referendum for the No side by asserting “Scotland is a nation” it has a freedom to govern its own concerns through devolution, and Labour by playing the “stronger UK tie” couldn’t stop the large swings against them in their safe seats with large No votes. Losing every seat outside Glasgow and Dundee basically proves this. They were out of touch.

    It didn’t stop disenfranchised Unionist, things had got so bad disenfranchised Unionists were even voting for the Nationalists.

    Here’s a thing about electoral politics, voters buy the best thing they can get on the market even if it isn’t 100 percent what they want in case the market stock something worse.

    Losing votes to UKIP weren’t all down to a lack of One Nation UK unity, UKIP that party that plays the “nationalist” card so successfully in European elections were beginning to learn the value of constituency based politics.

    Labour were completely complacent, they were custodial, patriarchal and far too centralized.

    One exception Labour Co-Operative Party… here’s a party with funding issues, that have to deal with the difficulties with the Co-Operative movement but it also worked hard to get its MP’s in, and had no illusions of what it stood for. Labour Co-Op has the independence to function practically, is a working electoral machine and a welcome quantum of the Labour Party that offers an alternative to hierarchical centralized power.

    I don’t think the Labour Party of Northern Ireland are any threat to the SDLP, the PUP or the Alliance Party. They’ve learnt nothing from Scotland, They’ve learnt nothing from the collapse of the old Northern Irish Labour Party, they are not dealing with the austerity challenges that both British and Irish Labour and to some extent the SDLP have had to deal with, nor the factional nature of left-wing parties that we see in the Republic and indeed within Loyalism that make electoral politics difficult.

    The original Anti-Austerity Alliance before the personality clashes forming an electoral pact being one exception.

    You cannot be socialist by being anti-social, you need your partners, you need supporters, you need humility and grace.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think it’s safe to assume you mean Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish on the basis of their regional mandate rather than their personal nationality or nationalities.
    The matter is a lot like the Federal issue vs. State rights matters in the USA.

    My understanding of the West Lothian question is a big issue is that England was never really defined as needing devolved matters from the beginning,

    It’s a wonder that some of those proposing greater EVEL go down the pre-devolution Welsh route when the region was defined separately to the “England and Wales entity” and have a Secretary of State for England and English Office to try to clarify what they are.

    At the cost of what would be needed for a Minister without Portfolio and his departmental affairs, any “Tudor Rose” issues would have someone specific to go to. English matters in other departments could stay where they were, but you would simply assign a minister for the British vs English issue debating its regional matters the way a Welsh secretary does as a policy generalist regional specialist.