Andy Burnham warns Labour could face Scotland-style wipeout in the North

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham speaks at the Labour Party conference in Brighton. Picture date: Monday September 27, 2021.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has warned Labour risks being wiped out in the North like they were in Scotland unless they reconnect with voters. (PA Images)

Andy Burnham has warned Labour could be wiped out in the North if they do not connect with voters in the region.

The Greater Manchester mayor told Yahoo News UK his party needed to "do more" to win back voters in the region or risk a repeat of a Scotland-style collapse – where Labour went from being the dominant force to a spent one.

He said the party was too focused on the South and needed to urgently do more to reflect the concerns of those in northern parts of England.

“They’re beginning to [reconnect with lost voters], but more is needed,” he said. “We need to see northern voices being amplified by the Labour Party.”

Read more: Andy Burnham hints at Labour leadership bid after landslide re-election

His words came after a Transport for the North committee meeting in Leeds, compromised of business people as well as mayors and politicians from both Labour and the Conservatives.

Attendees were largely united in their frustration with the plans to axe part of HS2 in the north of England, accusing Boris Johnson's government of neglecting the area and jeopardising investment.

Left to right Mayor West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin, Mayor of North of Tyne Jamie Driscoll, Acting Chair Councillor Louise Gittins Cheshire West and Chester, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, Mayor of Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram and Mayor of South Yorkshire Dan Jarvis, outside Leeds Railway Station, following a meeting of the Transport for the North Board at the Queens Hotel in Leeds, after the Government set out its revised plans for Northern England and the Midlands. Picture date: Wednesday November 24, 2021.
Regional mayors were united on Wednesday in their condemnation of the government's plans to scrap parts of HS2 in the North. (PA Images)

Labour Liverpool metro mayor Steve Rotheram said, in reference the prime minister’s chaotic CBI speech where he imitated car noises and spoke about Peppa Pig World: “Let me simplify it for the prime minister: This is not about broom-brooms, this is about choo-choo trains.”

Burnham, who was re-elected as mayor by a landslide in May, issued a stark warning that Labour risked a repeat performance of what happened in Scotland, and expressed frustration that northern mayors were not allowed to speak at the party’s conference.

“Look at what happens in Scotland,” the former Labour MP told Yahoo News UK. “The party isn’t perceived to be engaged enough – and consequently we’ve lost a lot of support in Scotland.”

The Scottish National Party (SNP) have swept through the country over the last decade, hoovering up nearly all the seats in a country which was once a Labour heartland.

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 29: Labour Party leader Sir Kier Starmer campaigns with Deputy leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner and Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham on April 29, 2021 in Manchester, England.The Labour Leader is in the area to campaign in both the Greater Manchester Mayoral election, seeking to return Andy Burnham, and in local elections. He spoke to small business owners about their experiences of the past year and the challenges facing the hospitality industry and highlighted transport issue in Manchester. (Photo by Christopher Furlong-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Burnham said Labour needs to elevate northern voices in the party. (PA Images)

The SNP say their gains were driven by growing calls for independence and disillusionment with Westminster politics.

In the 2019 election, the so-called ‘Red Wall’ traditional Labour heartlands – stretching across the Midlands and the North – crumbled and helped hand Boris Johnson his huge majority of more than 80 seats.

Many Labour voters in the North voted to leave the EU in 2016, and had become increasingly disillusioned with what they saw as the party’s disconnect with the issues they cared about.

General Election 2019 how the UK voted after 650 0f 650 seats. See story POLITICS Election. Infographic PA Graphics
The Tories redrew the electoral map in 2019 in the North. (PA)

There was also a feeling that Jeremy Corbyn was out of touch with the mood of the region.

“Labour has to get itself into a clear position of: ‘Where is the greatest need?’” Burnham said.

“They will always be a party that talks about ‘need’, and giving most to those who need it most.”

There were tensions between Burnham and Labour leaders in the South in the days after the government’s HS2 announcement last week, with some in his party suggesting Burnham's rhetoric was “divisive” for focusing on unequal funding between the two.

In response, he tweeted: “Or to put it another way … ‘Stop calling out obvious unfairness and the unequal treatment of the poorest parts of England’.

"You know what, I won’t, as I still believe that is what the Labour Party was founded to do.”

The Catch-up sign up
The Catch-up sign up

When Yahoo News UK asked him about this apparent tension within the party, Burnham said: “The idea, you know, on a day that the North was getting bashed last week, that some tried to make it a story about London bashing, just shows to me the problem,” he said.

“They’re not thinking enough about the areas that are furthest behind and I do think they need to pay a lot more attention to that.”

The 51-year-old, who has not ruled out a second bid for Labour leadership, has frequently called for more devolution to the regions to allow mayors and local leaders to have more autonomy over their regions.

Burnham’s constituency has some of the highest levels of poverty in England, with 35.5% of children under 16 living in poverty.

Last year, he was dubbed “King in the North” after he took a stand against the government refused to put Greater Manchester into lockdown without additional financial support after its care rates soared.

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM – OCTOBER 20: Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham speaks to the media outside Bridgewater Hall, in the shadow of the North West Nightingale Hospital at Manchester Central, on October 20, 2020 in Manchester, England. Talks between the Housing and Communities Minister, Robert Jenrick, and the Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, collapsed today after they failed to agree a financial package to help Mancunians whose jobs are threatened by a Tier Three lockdown. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Burnham was labelled 'King in the North' last year after he publicly opposed the government putting Greater Manchester into lockdown unless they recieved further financial support. (PA Images)

However, despite this reputation, Burnham sought to stress that his advocacy for the North was not because he resented the South.

"I brought through a package on Crossrail and none of us are saying we don’t support the capital city – but the whole of the Labour Party should now say we should focus more on the North to get what’s needed here,” said the former health secretary.

“Communities in the North have the highest levels of deprivation in the country and the poorest public transport. It really can’t be right.”

Watch: Greater Manchester mayor calls for regional devolution