Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, has given an interview to the Guardian which has excited the Tories. Tory chairman Grant Shapps has said:
‘This shows that even senior members of Labour’s top team think Ed Miliband doesn’t have what it takes to stand up for hardworking people.’
It’s a familiar refrain; but for once the spin rings fairly true. Here’s the crucial passage from Decca Aitkenhead’s piece:
‘…when I ask if he’s worried by how long Labour is taking to come out with a set of flagship policies that explain what they stand for, he agrees. “Definitely. I think there’s definitely a need to shout louder, and speak in a way that captures how people are thinking and feeling. There’s definitely a need to put our cards on the table.”‘
Burnham went on to say that time is short for Labour; the party has until next spring, he reckons, to provide a convincing economic alternative to the coalition.
Aitkenhead felt compelled to ask if Burnham is ‘on manoeuvres’. Burnham insisted that he has ‘nothing but the utmost respect’ (ho ho) for Ed Miliband, and added that most of his criticisms were aimed at modern politics not personalities. Even so, Ed Miliband suffers because Burnham’s interview is the first significant media appearance by a shadow cabinet member this summer. And Burnham deliberately roved beyond his brief. His discussion of the economy damns Miliband and Ed Balls, the latter being a beast with which Burnham has wrestled on a few occasions this parliament – first while shadowing education and now shadowing health.
Burnham may sound like a Cassius in search of his Brutus; but there is another side to these remarks. It is rumoured that Burnham is to be reshuffled. He has been damaged by the Mid Staffs scandal and the Tories are happy with him in post; so Miliband might be wise to move him. Burnham, I think, realises this because some of his comments were very defensive. He said, ‘I’m saying to Ed [Miliband], I will give you an NHS policy that is “one nation” to its core.’ Elsewhere he said that social care, an issue he dabbled with as Health Secretary under Gordon Brown, will be central to the next election. The message is, ‘You need me, Ed!’
So then, Andy Burnham. Stalking horse? Nervous servant? Or both?