The details of the government reshuffle are currently being hammered out at the 8.30 Downing Street meeting. But as MPs and ministers nervously wait for the call from the Number 10 switchboard, Ed Miliband will be plotting his own changes to his top team for later this week. And as key Shadow Cabinet members such as Liam Byrne look vulnerable, one shadow minister who is holding on with all he’s got is Andy Burnham. The Shadow Health Secretary is very popular with the party’s grassroots, but he is also politically vulnerable because of his connections to the previous Labour government. But though Ed Miliband failed to publicly back Burnham at the party’s conference, his colleague has in the past few days launched an offensive on his detractors that also makes it more difficult to move him.
His announcement that he is considering legal action against ‘smears’ by Jeremy Hunt would be undermined were Miliband to move him, as the move would be widely down to Burnham’s past, not his abilities as a campaigning shadow minister. In fact, when it comes to the latter, Burnham is probably the only member of the Shadow Cabinet able to make waves and really get under the skin of the Tories.
In the Mirror today, Burnham writes:
‘Enough is enough. Hunt must put up or shut up. This job takes a lot out of you and requires major sacrifices by your family. All this is only worth it if you have your integrity and you feel that people can at least see you are in it for the right reasons.
‘When someone unfairly tries to take that away from you, you either fight it or you may as well give up. So that’s why I have taken the exceptional step of sending a legal letter requiring the Secretary of State to provide specific evidence that I attempted to cover up events at Basildon.’
As ever, he’s particularly good at making his attacks quite personal and emotional, which certainly rally his supporters behind him. But Burnham isn’t just standing up to his Tory opponents this morning. He has also, via the Staggers, made clear that he is deeply unhappy with the Sun’s front page investigation revealing ’1,200 killed by mental patients’. A spokesman for Burnham tells the blog:
‘This is a disgraceful reinforcement of the stigma against those with mental illness. The paper will face serious questions on Monday. Archaic attitudes still define our approach to mental health – we must challenge them.’
This ‘the paper will face serious questions’ line obviously echoes Ed Miliband’s battle with the Mail over its representation of his father, and suggests that Burnham also wants a piece of the David and Goliath action.
As for CCHQ, well, whatever happens to Burnham is quite easily spinnable. He goes – that’s an admission of guilt from the Labour frontbench for past failings (and privately a relief for the party, given the amount of traction Burnham gets with his attacks on Hunt). If he stays, it’s because the Labour leader is too weak. But in the meantime, the Shadow Health Secretary is clearly keen to give his last stand everything he has.Tags: Andy Burnham, Jeremy Hunt, Labour, NHS, UK politics