Who is the busiest politician at Labour conference? One could be forgiven for assuming it would be Keir Starmer. But Andy Burnham is giving the Labour leader a run for his money.
The mayor for Greater Manchester is down to speak at 11 fringe events in total – after missing out on a slot on the main stage. On Sunday, he kicked off his busy conference schedule with a BBC interview in which he said it was the wrong time for Starmer to try to change party rules. Burnham urged the Labour leadership to finally set out a compelling vision to the public.
This morning, Burnham spoke at a Centre for Cities fringe event where he spoke about how focussing on community was critical when it came to building up electoral support. He also talked about the party's pitch to northern voters – regularly bringing up London as a city that is given special treatment, citing the regional lockdowns of the past year.
He also warned that the party will 'lose the north' if they 'carry on the way they are' as it has become too London-centric. His pitch to the UK government, too, is that he will work with them but he wants transport in Manchester to be able to offer as low fares as London – and needs the funding to do that.
His comments on London appear to have been given short shrift from London mayor Sadiq Khan, who said today:
‘Message to those in our party who think it plays well slagging off London is you will not get a national recovery without a London recovery.’
The discontent goes beyond those Labour politicians with a London brief. While there are plenty of Burnham events still come, it's safe to say that his colleagues wouldn't be crying into their cereal if his schedule was suddenly cleared. 'It's Labour conference, not the Andy Burnham show,' complains a party staffer.
So what is Burnham's game? Since leaving parliament and winning the mayoralty, the former minister has come into his own – winning plaudits and managing to make a mark for himself where he had struggled to as an MP. It's why he is often talked up as a leadership contender – offering a clearer pitch to red wall voters than metropolitan Starmer. He is the current bookies' favourite to succeed Starmer.
Burnham hasn't denied still harbouring leadership ambitions, but has said he would only consider it after the next election, and only then if the party wanted him. Judging by the reception, Burnham is currently getting among his colleagues, that will depend on how much he pushes it between now and then.