There are many ways to spend a weekend. I doubt most people's idea of a good time would be going to see the former frontrunner in the Labour leadership election try his best to persuade other legendarily boring gits to vote for him, but this apparently is my life now as an official Labour supporter™. Or at least it will be until some bright spark connects my real name to this blog, where I have previously said to vote for parties other than Labour, something considered enough to bar you from being a member or supporter, even if you campaigned for the party or said to vote for them this year. With new friends, eh?
Anyway, just a few points:
1. I estimate between 150 to 200 turned up to see Andy Burnham speak and then take questions, certainly more than I expected. Jeremy Corbyn has been filling far bigger places than where we were, getting numbers in the region of 800-1200, but Burnham himself seem pleased with the turnout. Considering where I live is at the best of times devoid of anything approaching culture (the coming attraction at the local theatre is Shrek The Musical) and completely apolitical, I don't think it was bad going. I've been to stand-up gigs where the numbers could be counted on a single pair of hands, if that's a comparable metric. (Yes, yes it is).
2. The only person to mention Jeremy Corbyn was... Andy Burnham. To the point where it almost seemed as though he was the man who couldn't be named.
3. The most intriguing thing Burnham said by far was that if he'd resigned from the shadow cabinet over the welfare bill, he expects he'd probably still be the frontrunner. And indeed, he's almost certainly right to think so. He didn't however because he's never broken the Labour whip, loyalty to the party being far more important than taking personal advantage. Unity is strength, he repeated, a number of times. Apart from being just a word away from one of the key slogans of Ingsoc from 1984, it seemed on a number of levels to be a truly odd line to take and regard as a plus point. There's nothing wrong with resigning over a point of principle, especially when the politics behind the line being pushed are so utterly wrongheaded. Moreover, if Burnham had resigned and gained accolades for doing so, much of the ridiculously damaging in-fighting that has since been conducted over the rise of Corbyn would have been avoided. It seemed like a false line, precisely what the rival campaigns of Cooper and Kendall have accused him repeatedly of adopting.
4. Regardless, Burnham was more impressive than I expected him to be. Yes, he's obviously had a lot of practice in delivering his short speech and in answering questions put to him, but he did so with admirable fluency, taking three questions at a time and answering them in turn, without resorting to cliches, platitudes or padding out his responses. His only real annoying tick was in referring to Cameron and pals more than once as "the Bullingdon boys", which apart from being increasingly old and a bit rich from a Cambridge graduate, hasn't really posed said "Bullingdon boys" much trouble with the voters, has it? Should he come through on second preferences, I'm less concerned than before that he will just be Ed Miliband Mk2.
5. I wasn't though in the slightest bit convinced. On the surface, there's much to like about Burnham: his manifesto is the most detailed apart from Corbyn's, has a good line in creating a National Health and Care Service, funded through a care levy, and behind Kendall would be the candidate the Tories most fear. He seems to be a Thoroughly Good Bloke, certainly less weird or geeky than that loser MIliband, something we're informed voters respect greatly, despite also much liking politicians who are complete dicks.
What he lacks is that ruthlessness Ed did occasionally show; the point I felt like making, but didn't, both because it was more of a statement than a question and although this blog hides it, I'm far more shy and retiring than you might imagine, was that if he had resigned over the welfare vote and hadn't joined in with the others in the aftermath of the election in the accepting everything the Tories, Blairites and right-wing press said about why Labour lost, he might already have it in the bag. He answered a question about conviction from someone who was clearly leaning towards Corbyn by saying that we should look at his role in the Hillsborough inquiry as to how he will challenge vested interests and the right people. This would mean more if it hadn't taken the 20th anniversary memorial at Anfield to spark his determination; the passing of time meant there was little real opposition to taking another look, the Sun having repeatedly tried by that point to apologise, if the police and state were yet to.
Labour needs, deserves better than someone who only acts once the time is right, who only moves once others have done so. Burnham seems the compromise, and despite the party needing to come to a compromise once the leader is elected, doing so over the leader isn't the answer. That said, I would now like to see Liz Kendall speak and answer questions in person, although she seems to have abandoned the pretence of doing much other than TV and radio appearances and calling individual members, for obvious reasons.
6. The only entryist in evidence was a Tory councillor who for reasons known only to himself decided to gatecrash the event and prove he had an even more pathetic existence than the rest of us. His question, when he could have easily made everyone uncomfortable by asking about the deficit or Corbyn, was to ask Burnham why Tony Blair lied over Iraq. Yes, really.
Labels: Andy Burnham, Blairites, election 2015, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leadership contest 2015, Liz Kendall, politics, Yvette Cooper