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The One to Watch: Andy Burnham

It’s official, the Leigh MP, Andy Burnham, is in the ballot for the Labour leadership. But what's the story?

Published on June 9th 2010.


The One to Watch: Andy Burnham

Only just squeezed in though, didn’t he? Yes, but he was nominated by some influential party members.

Like who? Well, himself – he’d be silly not to, Plus Rob Fiello, er, Yvonne Fovargue...

You what? All right, David Blunkett, Hazel Blears, oh, and Bootle MP Joe Benton, and Walton MP Steve Rotherham.

If Burnham wins, does this mean we could have a Scouser for Prime Minster in five years’ time? Or is he more Manc? Well, he was born in Old Roan but moved to Lowton as a young child.

Where? Greater Manchester - not far from his Leigh constituency. So maybe he's a bit of both. Although his loyalties in terms of football lie with the western city.

So is he on the Left or the Right? Hard to place, really. He is New Labour, but neither a Blairite nor a Brownite. He went to a comprehensive (St Aelred's Roman Catholic High, Newton le Willows), but also went to Cambridge. He is big on law and order and family values, but also says he wants a “country fair to all - with a more even spread of health, wealth and life chances”.

Bit of a socialist, then? Not exactly, but he certainly believes in going Dutch.

Eh? His wife, university sweetheart Marie-France van Heel, is from the Netherlands.

Any past clangers we need to know about: He was alleged to have caused embarrassment to the Government in August 2007 by attacking the Conservative Party's Economic Competitiveness report, before admitting in an interview that he had not read the report.

Anything else? Oh, yes. In 2008 Burnham was forced to apologise to the director of pressure group Liberty, Shami Chakrabati, after she threatened to sue him for libel after he made comments about her and “Double Death” Tory David Davis's unusual political alliance. "He imparted: “very curious in a man who was, and still is, I believe, an exponent of capital punishment, having late-night, hand-wringing, heart-melting phone calls with Shami Chakrabati".

Sounds a bit jealous, if you ask me?
Yes he probably wishes he was the one cosying up to Davis if his hard line on law and order while at the Home Office is anything to go by. He might be known as “the Pretty One” of the four standing, but he was once known as "Flog 'em and Burnham”.

Ouch... And that's not all, Burnham was quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying: "I think it’s better when children are in a home where their parents are married" and "it’s not wrong that the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage".

Sounds like he should be on the blue team?
Funny you should say that. Burnham is a lifelong Everton supporter who admits to invading the pitch as a 14-year-old after Everton's FA Cup semi-final win against Southampton in 1984.

What else?
He might be a bluenose but his background is red blooded socialist. His father was a telephone engineer, his mother a receptionist. He is said to have joined Labour at the age of 14 during the miners' strike.

Anything to declare?
Burnham was in a prolonged battle with the House of Commons Fees Office over the £16,644 cost of renovations and work on a London flat he was buying. The claims, which included a new kitchen, had been repeatedly rejected. Burnham had written three notes asking for the money to be paid, including one at Christmas 2005 which quipped: "Otherwise I might be in line for divorce!"

Any silly claims - second duck house, a year’s supply of raspberry ripple ice cream?
He did once try to claim £19.99 for a bathrobe from IKEA, but that was rejected. A dressing down over the dressing gown, you might say.

So what are his qualifications for the top job?
Apart from an MP for nearly 10 years, he’s held Cabinet roles as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 2007, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in 2008 (in our Capital of Culture year he was never far from Phil Redmond's side on trips to Liverpool), and Secretary of State for Health in June 2009.

Any embarrassing hobbies?
He's a big sports fan: an avid supporter of Leigh Centurions Rugby League Club - where he was once was the honorary chairman for a short period of time. Andy has played for Labour's "Demon Eyes" football team, plays the guitar in a Commons band called MP4 (ho ho), and likes indie music – his claim to be cool.

Any chance, then? Presentable and a genuine enough contender, but the bookies have him as a 14/1 outsider. He speaks his mind, regardless of the party line, though this may ultimately cost him.

Do say: He's sporty and musical – just like that nice Tony Blair.

Don't say: He's sporty and musical – just like that nice Tony Blair.

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