The Labour leadership race is rapidly turning sour. None of the warnings from party grandees are denting Jeremy Corbyn’s support, so talk has turned back to whether candidates should drop out. Yvette Cooper’s campaign has called for Andy Burnham to quit the race. ‘If he isn’t prepared to offer an alternative to Jeremy, he needs to step back and leave it to Yvette’, a spokesman said last night.
On the Today programme this morning, Burnham hit back at this idea, arguing that ‘some of the language needs to be more considered than it is’ and defended his position in the race:
‘I find this call disappointing but actually quite strange, given that all the other leadership camps all agree, and they’ve gone on the record to say this, I’m in second place … if we let this bad blood, as you describe it, and negativity take over, this party will be harder to unite coming out of this contest and that is what I’m focused on. ‘
The main difference between Burnham and Cooper and Kendall is that the latter two judge the efforts to stop Corbyn as a fight to the death, and are therefore instructing supporters to use their second preferences to block him. Burnham, on the other hand, does not see it as ‘three against one’:
‘I don’t see it like that, I see it as each candidate now should put forward their positive case as to why they are the best person to lead Labour forward. I think lectures from people at the top of the party to how the members should race in this race, I don’t think they go down particularly well.’
Despite the friendly overtones towards Corbyn and his campaign, Burnham struggled to say whether his opponent actually wanted to be Prime Minister in 2020:
‘Prime Minister? I don’t know if Jeremy wants to be Prime Minister but he is saying things that people are responding to, that people find refreshing … he started by saying he wanted to produce a debate, that was why he came into the race. I don’t know if that’s changed or not. You’d have to ask him about that.’
As I explained yesterday, the most likely scenario of Corbyn quitting the leadership is after deciding he does not want to fight the 2020 election and leaves once the left has had its say. However optimistic Burnham is now that he is the man to unite the party, this leadership contest is increasingly looking to be the beginning of Labour’s woes.