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Is Andy Burnham telling the whole truth about his time outside Westminster?

11 August 2015

6:49 PM

11 August 2015

6:49 PM

The Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham, who has worked in politics for 21 years, makes much of his life outside the Westminster bubble. As well as releasing a campaign video designed to show off his Northern working-class roots, he told Andrew Neil on the Sunday Politics that part of the reason he is ‘rooted’ in the real world is that he has held down normal jobs outside of politics:

AN: You work from a mile from where we are. Tell me one job you’ve had that’s not the Westminster bubble?
AB: I worked for a newspaper, I worked for a publishing company before I came into politics.
AN: For how long?
AB: Pardon? For about four years before I came into politics.
AN: What was the publishing company?
AB: Baltic Publishing, if you must know

However, Mr S suspects that Burnham’s claim of four years working in the real world — before taking a job with Tessa Jowell at the beginning of 1994 — may be stretching the truth.

Burnham began his career path into Labour politics with a degree in English Literature at Cambridge, the same university his Labour rival Liz Kendall attended. Although he graduated in 1991, it is unknown what class of degree he finished with. Steerpike has tried to find out, but Burnham’s camp failed to reply to a request for comment.

Whatever class of degree he received, Burnham struggled to find work after he graduated in the summer of 1991. In today’s Guardian, the Labour politician is quoted as telling an audience at a hustings in Canary Wharf that he was unemployed for six months after graduating:

‘I left university in 1991, went from a Merseyside comprehensive to Cambridge. I graduated and thought ‘the doors are going to fly open for me’, and they didn’t and I was unemployed for six months, whereas people I went to university with, whose mums and dads worked in places like this [the offices of KPMG accountants] or were in the media or in law, they just flew into internships.’


He previously said that he ‘worked for a newspaper’. However, it turns out that this was actually a three-month internship for the Middleton Guardian. As this journalism work experience was unpaid, it seems Burnham could afford to work salary-free for three months while also commuting 20 miles to work each day.

Presuming that this stint interning occurred after his six months of unemployment, this would take the story of the young and progressing Burnham to the beginning of 1992. He then took his first paid job, working for Baltic Publishing on the B2B titles Passenger Rail Management, Container Management and Tank Management. While little can be checked given that these magazines have now closed or changed publisher, Passenger Rail Management‘s first issue didn’t come out until May 1993.

Burnham left Baltic at the beginning of 1994 to work for Tessa Jowell. It therefore seems that he could not have held his journalism job for any more than two and a half years. As for how he got his lucky break as a parliamentary researcher at the age of 24 with little political experience? The answer may lie with his former Passenger Rail Management colleague Eleanor Mills, who happens to be Tessa Jowell’s stepdaughter.

Mills — who is now editorial director of the Sunday Times — recently told an audience at a Gorkana talk that she was responsible for getting him his job with her stepmother:

‘Her first job was unpaid work experience at the Guardian. At the time she was on the dole and they were unable to offer her job so she took a job at Tank World (The world’s premier bulk-liquid, transportation publication). Her boss at the time was Andy Burnham and she ended up getting him a job as a parliamentary researcher – gaining credit for them both escaping the title!’

Cambridge, an internship, work at a publishing company and a politics job through a contact. It’s hardly the CV of a working-class hero.

Update: A little bird tells Mr S that Burnham received a 2:1 from Cambridge. If that’s the case, perhaps he didn’t want to bring this up given that his rivals Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper both graduated with first class honours.


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