Andy Burnham’s re-election boosts his stature as ‘King of the North’

·2-min read

Andy Burnham’s re-election as the Mayor of Greater Manchester is a rare victory in Labour’s fast-crumbling “red wall” in the north.

He won a second term as mayor with an increased share of the vote, on an increased turnout, from 2017.

Mr Burnham is now the most senior and successful elected Labour Party politician outside the parliamentary leadership of the party.

As Mayor of Greater Manchester he has built his own successful brand, being declared “King of the North” during last summer’s high-profile spat with Boris Johnson over pandemic funding for the region.

Regional Mayoral elections
Mr Burnham leaves the polling station at Golborne Library (Danny Lawson/PA)

But his success is widely seen as coming through his high profile, as a former Labour government minister – and his distance from the Labour Party.

Despite first becoming MP for Leigh in 2001 and serving as a government minister during 17 years of New Labour, he has railed against the poor-relation status of the North and taken to regularly bashing the Westminster establishment.

He also served in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, which has led to an often-heard criticism within Labour ranks – that Mr Burnham, having served in Tony Blair’s pro-EU, globalising Labour Party and Mr Corbyn’s socialist, red-in-tooth-and-claw version, he is a weather-vane who goes with the flow to ensure his own electoral success.

Mr Burnham left Westminster to become Mayor of Greater Manchester in 2017 and crucially was removed from his party’s decision to back a second referendum on the Brexit vote, the cause of anger among northern Leave voters.

Still only 51, he is coy about ruling out a leadership bid, which would be his third attempt, and has spoken of his estrangement from the party.

His election campaign materials rely heavily on his own brand, not the Labour Party red rose or the party leader.

Mr Burnham was big on buses in his 2021 campaign, focusing solely on local issues.

He eschews the visceral castigating of the Tory party, or Tory voters, and many of the seeming current fixations of the more vocal membership of the Labour Party.

Mr Burnham is not a politician to be found tweeting about identity politics, socialism or Palestine.

The state-educated son of a BT engineer and receptionist, he made it to Cambridge University from a normal, working class family, and for many northern voters he looks, speaks and thinks like, “one of us”.

That he is something of a rarity within Labour ranks now may offer some clues as to why he personally can still connect with the party’s traditional voter base – as elsewhere they desert the party in droves.