Lessons from Andy Burnham on power and popularity after 'emphatic' re-election

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham
-Credit:Manchester Evening News

Andy Burnham has won four more years as Greater Manchester mayor in an 'emphatic' re-election result. The Labour politician secured support from more than 420,000 people, having won in almost every part of the city-region- even where his party lost council seats.

It comes after a 'challenging' set of local elections for Labour in Greater Manchester in which the party suffered significant setbacks. Despite enjoying success elsewhere in the country, Labour lost control of Oldham council and key seats in Bolton and Rochdale.

The war in Gaza, and criticism of the party's stance on the conflict, was a decisive factor that saw Labour lose votes in some areas. But these results were not reflected in the mayoral election in which the incumbent candidate secured 63.4 per cent of the total votes.

READ MORE: Greater Manchester mayoral election 2024 results in full

Labour believe that Mr Burnham came first in all but one council ward across Greater Manchester - Werneth in Oldham where there was no Labour candidate on the ballot. Even in areas which elected Conservative councillors on Thursday, Mr Burnham still succeeded.

Taking to the stage after the results were announced on Saturday (May 4), Mr Burnham acknowledged the support he received from people who usually vote for other parties. He declared this 'new politics' pioneered in Greater Manchester 'emphatically' endorsed.

Andy Burnham was joined by his family at the count
Andy Burnham was joined by his family at the count -Credit:Kenny Brown | Manchester Evening News

The re-elected mayor vowed to use his mandate to build a public transport system that 'befits a city-region of our stature' and make sure everyone growing up in Greater Manchester has a path in life. And he called for new powers to help those who are struggling.

"Speaking to people in Greater Manchester over the last few weeks," he said, "I have also heard a call for more profound change.

"From parents in Harpurhey trapped in debt because of the pernicious combination of the housing and the benefit systems. From communities suffering the after effects of youth violence and struggling to make sense of it.

"The Westminster one-size-fits-all approach to policy hasn't worked for them and the truth is this. If you have an education overly focused on the university route, you will leave some young people growing out without hope.

"If you have a benefit system overly focused on sanctions rather than support, you will end up with a growing mental health crisis. And if housing policy is exclusively focused on promoting home ownership, you will leave millions trapped in a housing crisis.

"Greater Manchester is ready to break out of this. Devolution in England is working and these elections show voters are buying into it and it is time now to go much further."

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham
'I have heard a call for more profound change' -Credit:Kenny Brown | Manchester Evening News

Mr Burnham now wants more control over the benefit system, promising to get better results for the same amount of money by helping people rather than punishing them. Hopeful of a Labour government, he described this moment as a 'massive opportunity'.

But he recognised that Labour will need to win back voters they have lost - including at these local elections. Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, he said both Jewish and Muslim communities are hurt and concerned about the Middle East conflict.

But he said he is 'proud' of the principled stance his party has taken locally, calling for a ceasefire early on in the conflict. He said his party must now work to 'bring people together', listen to what voters have told them at these elections and 'represent that feeling'.

However, he also spoke of the struggle many people are facing here in Greater Manchester. "I think sometimes politicians don't stop enough and listen actually to what people are struggling with," he said. "It's huge. I don't remember it being like this in my lifetime."

'The price of your power'

In his victory speech, he quoted a parent he heard from during his campaign an event about debt in Harpurhey. "She said to me that the price of your power is to be a voice for people who are really, really suffering and it really hit me," he told the M.E.N. afterwards.

"What's the point of having power if you then go and hobnob with powerful people? You should have power to give it to people who need power in their situation. Sometimes election campaigns do that to you. They just get you to listen in a different way and it did."

Mr Burnham secured 63.4 per cent of the vote
Mr Burnham secured 63.4 per cent of the vote -Credit:Kenny Brown | Manchester Evening News

"I think we need quite big change in the country, but also in our politics," he added. "We're trying to pioneer that change here through that place-first approach to things.

"Elections always reset you. They kind of make you think in ways that perhaps you didn't before.

"I'm overwhelmed with the result. It's a wonderful result. But I also understand why other places have voted as they have done.

"The feeling they've expressed is held by many other people and it needs to be listened to."