Andy Burnham wins bigger majority as Greater Manchester mayor and rips into Johnson over ‘levelling-up’

Former Labour cabinet minister declines to rule out future leadership bid but says his party needs to ‘embrace English devolution with a vengeance’

Peter Stubley
Saturday 08 May 2021 20:31 BST

Andy Burnham tells the government how they should be ‘levelling up’ the English regions

Andy Burnham hit out at the government's levelling up slogan and “London-centric” Labour after winning re-election as mayor of Greater Manchester with an increased majority.

The two-times Labour leadership contender said his 67 percent of the vote — up from 63 percent in 2017 — sent a clear message to Westminster that the public wanted more devolution in English regions.

In an emotional speech criticising the policies of both major parties, he said that he would follow a "place-first not party-first approach".

"People are buying into English devolution - they are telling you to deliver more of it not less," he said.

Mr Burnham is the favourite to be the next Labour leader after Keir Starmer, with Coral bookmakers setting his odds at 6-1 ahead of Lisa Nandy on 8-1 and Angela Rayner on 10-1.

"Don't give us devolution and be surprised that we answer you back, particularly if you do things here that you would never dare to do in London,” he said after the result was announced.

Referring to reports that there was "widespread cluelessness" in government about Boris Johnson's levelling up slogan, he offered his own definition that focused on "better jobs, better homes, better transport".

He said that "levelling up can't be about scattering funding to Tory-favoured places" and added: "It can be achieved when you give millions of people in a city region like this one a modern, affordable public transport system.

"Levelling up is achieved when you give all people the dignity of decent work with wages that don't have to be topped up by visits to the food bank. And when we have the kind of jobs here which means our young people don't have to move south to get on in life which I had to do 30 years ago.”

He urged Johnson to support his plans to introduce a "London-style transport system" in Manchester with buses brought back under public control and lower fares of around £1.55 rather than £4 or more.

In later TV interviews, Mr Burnham also called on Labour to “embrace English devolution with a vengeance” as he claimed the party had "lost an emotional connection with people" in its former strongholds.

"Labour has to change," he told the BBC. "Labour has to get rid of it's London-centric ways. If it doesn't I don't know what the future holds for it.”

“I often feel invisible to the Labour Party," he said. "I get no vote in the election of a leader, as a mayor I get no platform at Labour conference, I’ve got no rights within the standing orders of the party.

"They haven’t taken it seriously and this is a big wake-up call for them and they need to hear it."

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Burnham did not rule out a third Labour leadership bid.

"I’ve been elected as Mayor of Greater Manchester and that is where my focus is," he said. "I left Westminster politics, I’m not an MP, you have to be an MP to stand for the leader of the Labour Party and I’m not aware that the rules have changed so my focus is here."

But he added: "In the distant future, you know, if the party were ever to kind of feel that it needed me, well I’m here and they should get in touch."

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