'Stop Pitting Us Against Each Other' London Labour Party Figures Tell Andy Burnham

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Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and London Mayor Sadiq Khan (Photo: Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images)
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and London Mayor Sadiq Khan (Photo: Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images)

Labour figures today called on Andy Burnham to dial down his comments about London and the south, accusing him of “pitting regions against each other”.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester has been accused of using “anti-London rhetoric” when he defends the north.

It comes after the government was slammed by both Labour and Tory MPs for watering down rail upgrades for the north as they scrapped the HS2 eastern leg to Leeds.

Northern leaders are furious and say they want the same deal as London when it comes to transport infrastructure and fares.

While Burnham’s Labour colleagues unanimously back more support for the north, some are not happy with him making comparisons to London. The capital is dominated by Labour MPs and has a Labour mayor - who this week warned Transport for London faces major cuts.

Their discomfort hit new levels when Burnham tweeted: “No expense spared for the south. No money left for the north. This isn’t ‘levelling up’. This is the same old story.”

When someone suggested he should narrow his tweet to the “south east” because regions in the south west are “constantly forgotten” he replied: “Fair point, as is the north east up here.”

Neil Coyle, MP for Bermondsey Old Southwark, last month accused Burnham of making “cheap digs” at London over the price of rail fares. Burnham told him it was not a dig at London to ask that “people here get some of the good things London has got”.

Coyle told HuffPost UK he had raised the issue both publicly and privately with Burnham, adding: “Londoners work longer hours, have higher rents and we have severe levels of deprivation even in inner London communities like my own. Parts of Southwark have 40 per cent child poverty for example.”

Leonie Cooper, a Labour member of the London Assembly, said it was a mistake to view the capital as if it is “all like Belgravia or Knightsbridge” and added: “Many people in London really struggle - London’s food banks are growing in number and are already asking for seasonal gifts, so children don’t go without.

“It’s such a shame northern leaders sometimes gloss over this and pretend all of London’s streets are paved with gold. What’s more, if London does well, it helps the rest of the country - London’s black cabs are built near Coventry, London’s red buses are built in Northern Ireland. Londoners want the north to succeed- but we back London too.”

South London Labour councillor Richard Livingstone added: “I think the north should get infrastructure funding but I think the pitting of regions against each other is unhelpful - and almost certainly counterproductive.”

Patrick Moule, London Labour’s Disabilities Officer, said it was “disappointing” to see Burnham make those comments because there was “near-universal support” for infrastructure funding in the north, adding: “They’ve been starved of it for decades.”

But he added: “I don’t understand why Burnham needs to drag the south whenever he makes the case for the north - it does Labour no favours at all.”

Tony McNulty, a former Labour MP and minister for London, accused Burnham of “beggar my neighbour politics” when they should be working together. McNulty said such “anti-London rhetoric” only helped the Tories.

But Burnham hit back saying it was “rubbish” and called on the south to show “a bit of solidarity”. He added: “It’s about time all Labour figures got serious about winning back the north.”

A Greater Manchester source told HuffPost UK: “Making comparisons between what London has and what we’ve got is not London-bashing.

“On the day the north is getting battered by the government on rail it reflects an entitled sense of privilege to make the issue about London bashing.”

But while the issue over northern transport dominated the Commons on Thursday, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was warning huge cuts are on the cards for Tubes, buses and cycle schemes.

He wrote in the FT: “Ministers say they want other regions to have ‘London-style’ transport services — but their failure to provide enough funding means it won’t be long before the capital itself no longer has ‘London-style’ transport services. Instead, TfL could become a byword for managed decline.”

And most of the London Labour MPs on Twitter posted about the TfL funding.

Some are annoyed at seemingly being pitted against another region when it is the government “at fault”.

They highlighted the impact of the pandemic on London, the capital’s major contribution to the economy and that as a region it has the highest poverty rates in England.

Separately Burnham’s colleague Lucy Powell, Labour MP for Manchester Central, tweeted that “major projects” like Crossrail in London never got downgraded and claimed instead that money is “thrown at them”.

John McTernan, who served as political secretary to former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, replied: “London had a slum system until the King’s Cross fire. Nor is this a zero sum game. And what precisely is the benefit of attacking a Labour heartland? The politics of creating impotent anger and division belongs to the populist right.”

A source close to Powell said: “This isn’t about pitting one area against the other, as Lucy’s tweets make clear, but the facts speak for themselves.

“If the north had had the equivalent transport infrastructure spending as London and the south east over the last ten years they would have had £66 billion more.

“These deep inequalities and resultant services should be of as much concern to Labour colleagues in the south as in the north.”

Writing in his Evening Standard column earlier this year, Burnham said: “Okay, I’ll admit it. I love London. I know you may not have always got that impression from my public statements. But, honestly, I do.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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