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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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