Burnham boosted by union backing

Andy Burnham
Andy Burnham

LABOUR leadership hopeful Andy Burnham was given a major boost by a Wigan union branch following a damaging recent snub on home turf.

The town’s branch of Unite gave unanimous support to the Leigh MP’s bid to succeed Ed Miliband after his hometown branch of the union opted to support his left-wing rival Jeremy Corbyn instead.

Wigan Unite chair and former Wigan MP Neil Turner said the shadow health secretary had the right balance of Westminster experience and popularity outside politics to take the party forward after its damaging defeat in this year’s general election.

He also criticised the Leigh Unite decision to back Mr Burnham’s rival, saying branch chair Stephen Hall should not have participated in the vote as he is a member of rival political party Left Unity.

Mr Turner said: “Andy is a proven Parliamentarian, willing to and capable of taking the big decisions that any prime minister will face in their term of office.

“I know from my time in Parliament and dealing with him as a minister and secretary of state that he is capable of standing up to civil servants and doing what is right.

“He is not one of that tired Islington elite who think the world ends at the M25, but someone who was born and raised in the North West, and understands our problems.

“The branch felt that what the party needs at this time is someone who will bring us stability, who has the drive and is committed to taking us through to and winning the next election, and also has the experience and ability to lead the country.

“Andy fulfils all those requirements in a way no other candidate can.”

The Wigan branch also endorsed Mr Burnham as he has racked up 15 years of experience in the House of Commons, including holding ministerial briefs, but is still relatively young at 45.

The national leadership of Unite has also given its support to Mr Corbyn but branches are autonomous.

Mr Turner also appeared to criticise branches such as Leigh by emphasising everyone who took part in the Wigan vote was a member of the Labour Party.

He said: “I followed the guidelines which say that when discussing whether or not to endorse a candidate, only those eligible to vote in the election should take part.

“As the branch chair, I would not have allowed someone from another party to take part.”

Mr Burnham is competing for the role of Labour Party leader against Mr Corbyn, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and Blairite candidate Liz Kendall.

However, his campaign was given another setback yesterday when Unison backed Mr Corbyn with Ms Cooper as its second preference, just after a poll put Mr Burnham in third place for the first time.

The leadership race has become increasingly bad-tempered as senior Labour Party figures have reacted with alarm to the unexpected success of Mr Corbyn, whose socialist platform has struck a chord with grass-roots members and campaigners on social media.

Ballot papers will be distributed to party members and registered or affiliated supporters on August 14, with the vote closing on September 10.

A special conference will announce the new leader on September 12.