An evening with Andy Burnham

Posted on Friday 17th March 2017

Candidate for Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham gave an enlightening talk about his career in politics at the University of Bolton on Wednesday (15 March).

The Member of Parliament for Leigh spoke to Gordon Burns about his beginnings in the Labour Party, his battle for the leadership of the party in the 2010 and 2015 and his work for a second inquest into the Hillsborough disaster.

He also gave his thoughts on how to combat Manchester congestion, improving transport infrastructure for the region and the possibility of Manchester hosting the 2020 Commonwealth Games.

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Andy Burnham grew up in Culcheth, a large village in Warrington, in the 70s and 80s. While he admitted he was not from a politically active family, the political era and issues facing people from the region, such as the Miner’s Strike, shaped his ideology and determination to get into politics.

He attended Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and upon graduating in 1991 began to work in journalism as an unpaid reporter for the Middleton Guardian. After six months he moved to London to work as a trade journalist.

‘It was the experience of the 1992 General Election that turned me from being fairly politically active, and a party member, to being so devastated [by the result] and then so determined to work permanently for the party.

‘That was the moment that took me on a path towards politics.’

Burnham began working as a researcher for Tessa Jowell and after the retirement of Lawrence Cunliffe, the Labour MP for Leigh, Burnham was elected to succeed him in 2001.

‘Half way through my first parliament I was beginning to think I would like to be a Minister. I didn’t see myself being right at the top of the party but I thought I’d like to be a Minister.’

He was successful in his ambition and in 2010, working as Secretary of State for Health, he decided to stand for leadership of the party following the resignation of Gordon Brown.

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He again stood in 2015, and despite being favourite, lost out to current leader Jeremy Corbyn.

‘In the race Jeremy Corbyn probably took many more votes from me than the other two in the race.

‘But that’s life and it makes me feel that even though I’m frontrunner for the race I’m in now, I don’t take anything for granted. When you enter a leadership election you don’t assume it’s all going to be yours and plain sailing.’

Burnham’s crowning glory though will be the work he did to push for the second Hillsborough inquest.

In 2009 as then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport he spoke at the 20th anniversary Hillsborough memorial service at Anfield, which was attended by around 30,000 people. The minister was barracked and his appearance ensured the call for full disclosure of the unseen Hillsborough files gathered pace.

‘If I’d have been there I would have been shouting. I understood what was happening and that moment had to happen.

After the service Burnham presented to Cabinet why a second inquest should take place, and was supported in his request by the Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Twenty-seven years after the disaster, an independent inquest ruled that the 96 football fans who died as a result of a crush in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster were unlawfully killed. During Andy Burnham’s 11-minute speech in the House of Commons after the announcement of the verdict, MPs broke convention to clap as the campaigning Labour MP spoke with power and passion of the end of the cover-up.