Andy Burnham Joins Labour Leadership Race With Immigration Pledge

Andy Burnham joins Labour leadership race with immigration pledge

The Guardian (U.K.), May 20, 2010

Andy Burnham will join the race to replace Gordon Brown, saying Labour 'had our fingers in our ears and our hands over our eyes' over election issues including immigration.

The former health secretary will announce his candidacy at the People's History Museum in Manchester this afternoon, bringing the number of candidates to five.

Ed Balls, the former schools secretary, launched his campaign yesterday, and John McDonnell, the leftwing backbencher, said he intended to run if he could get the numbers. The Miliband brothers, David and Ed, have already launched their bids.

There is only one week and four parliamentary days left to drum up support before Labour MPs have to nominate their preferred leader next Thursday.

In an interview with the Guardian, Burnham appeared to support calls for this period to be extended. He said: 'My appeal would be, let's help get as many voices in the race and get a range of perspectives.'

Ed Miliband yesterday added his voice to criticism of the timetable drawn up by the party's national executive committee, constraining those who think they can muster a bid. Labour's acting leader, Harriet Harman, is known to be sympathetic and the party is expected to agree today to extend the deadline.

Meanwhile, Burnham added his voice to the emerging consensus that Labour in government failed to act convincingly on immigration.

While he said he would 'avoid disowning our past' on immigration, he said: 'Their [the electorate's] strong feeling was that we had our fingers in our ears and our hands over our eyes. We just didn't want to talk about it.

'For me the big task is for Labour to reconnect with people who are feeling this. They need to feel that Labour understands what they are saying and then will take steps to address it.'

He extended his criticism to the party's inability to explain the rules on welfare and pensions. 'You just heard it all over the country it was a sense that for people who, in their eyes, were doing the right thing and trying to get on, that when they looked around, Labour wasn't on their side any more,' he said. 'That came out through this feeling about benefits – it was a feeling that was really cemented by the credit crunch really. People had had wage freezes and wage cuts. People were anxious about their jobs, they felt that the government had its priorities wrong at times – that money and help was going to people who were not, like them, trying to do the right things.' He cited elderly people who saved money and then found that that income had taken them over the threshold for pensioner credits.

Burnham said he was amenable to looking at ideas such as lowering the membership fee for joining the party and making all members better involved, which could possibly have helped to stop issues snowballing into more serious problems.

Balls launched his campaign for the leadership during a visit to two marginal constituencies, going to South Basildon in Essex in the morning a seat that Labour needs to regain if it wants to win the next election before travelling to Gedling in Nottinghamshire, a seat that Labour held against the odds.

Asked about his opponents in the leadership contest, Balls said: 'We've been friends and colleagues for a long period of time and I'm very proud of my friendships with colleagues Whoever wins this, I will back them 110%.

'We all have some similarities but we have some differences: David's been a foreign secretary travelling around the world I was born in Norwich [and] I'm a Yorkshire MP. I've had a different set of challenges. Being different's good.'

While saying he wanted to resist putting down too much policy detail this early in the campaign, Balls said that under his leadership the party would combat discontent about immigration levels by better explaining the former government's points-based immigration system.

He also appeared to suggest that university tuition fees introduced in the face of Labour backbench opposition in 2005 had been a block to students aspiring to go to university.

Confirming his bid for the leadership at the conference of the Public and Commercial Services Union, McDonnell said the choice should not be left to 'the sons of Blair and the son of Brown there's a whole range of people in the Labour party that needs to be heard'.