Alexander Adranghi reviews Andy Burnham’s launch to become Labour’s candidate for mayor of Greater Manchester
Last week Andy Burnham launched his bid to become the Labour candidate for the Greater Manchester mayoralty. The choice of venue was the spectacular Compass room at the Lowry Theatre, surrounded by icons of the modern Manchester that chimed with his messaging of making Manchester a cultural and creative capital of Europe.
Andy opted for a modern town hall launch, presenting himself as an accessible, open and modern Labour leader. He was a man who was comfortable and clearly had passion behind his message. Here was a mayoralty candidate who understood that Labour needs via clear communicators and positive messaging to revitalise the party’s fortunes.
The 40-minute speech in front of local leaders and journalists encompassed a wide range of domestic themes. There were interesting ideas around using the Greater Manchester Housing Fund to buy back housing to revitalise the public stock, and another to fully integrate social care in the area’s health service. Andy set out that every school leaver should have a clear and supported choice after secondary education: traditional higher education, a re-emphasised apprenticeship route, and championing a new focus with young entrepreneurs.
His delivery ultimately revolved around strengthening the quality of life in Manchester. It was impossible not to feel good from hearing his well-tuned rhetoric. Andy’s overarching theme is to deliver economic development while making Manchester an innovation and creative capital with social justice at its nucleus. This new campaign for social justice would be a beacon of what a Labour administration can deliver, as he drew upon the history of Manchester’s role in the industrial, co-operative and Suffragette movement.
He delivered a message of optimism and hope – the first time I have heard this in the Labour party for too long. It was a message to win over hearts as well as minds, and to engage with Mancunians in a different way to how it is done with Westminster politics with ‘a distinct brand of Northern Labour’ under claims that ‘politics isn’t speaking to the north-west’.
In his support for rebalancing Britain away from London, he had harsh words for George Osborne, demanding that, ‘If George Osborne wants a Northern Powerhouse, he’d better put his money where his mouth is’, and was unashamedly supporting east-west high-speed rail in the north as a matter of national infrastructure priority.
While his attacks against the government were unsurprising, his speech hinted that he would be able to be a more effective opposition leader against cuts of this Tory government.
Even a light-hearted football analogy was thrown in as Burnham compared himself to Wayne Rooney coming along the M62 from Merseyside to serve Greater Manchester. Not unnoticed was that this was said just as the England captain is taking a step back to midfield for United. A reference Burnham’s own change of tack for the Labour party’s future chances?
After Sadiq Khan’s victorious campaign in London, and now with Andy entering the race in Manchester, is there a new path to power for Labour through devolved local authorities? These directly elected mayors provide a platform to change lives, and showcase both achievements and leadership nationally in a digestible, media friendly way.
Burnham’s launch was very good at communicating a vision of what kind of society we want Manchester and the country to be, speaking with easy-to-grasp language and concepts. This has the potential to revitalise centre-left politics in the Labour party and return the party to winning ways by presidential, media-friendly leadership.
Alexander Adranghi is former national chair of the Young Fabians. He tweets @alexadranghi
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