Andy Burnham: Labour needs to show "clearer commitment" to devolution

Written by Kevin Schofield on 8 December 2017 in News

Former frontbencher said the decision to block him and Liverpool metro mayor Steve Rotheram from addressing Labour's conference showed the party did not take devolution seriously enough

Andy Burnham: image credit: Paul Heartfield

Andy Burnham has warned that Labour lacks a "clear commitment" to devolution, with the Manchester mayor telling the party it must do more to show it supports handing powers from Westminster to local communities.

The former frontbencher said the decision to block him and Liverpool metro mayor Steve Rotheram from addressing Labour's conference showed the party did not take devolution seriously enough.

In an interview with Holyrood’s sister publication, House magazine, Burnham - who became mayor of Greater Manchester in May - also said Brexit should lead to the Government passing on more powers to local areas when they return from Brussels.

Jeremy Corbyn faced criticism after claiming it would be “very problematic” to have different legal systems operating in the UK, despite Scotland already operating one.

A row then broke out in the run-up to the Labour conference when it emerged that none of the party's successful mayoral candidates would be allowed to address activists from the main hall.

Party bosses eventually backed down and allowed London mayor Sadiq Khan to make a keynote speech - but Burnham and Rotheram were snubbed.

"The party needs to show a clearer commitment to English devolution in my view,” Burnham said. “It is part of the renewal of our politics and I’d like to see all parties embrace this and make commitments to it.

"I think the failure to give a platform to one of the newly-elected metro mayors suggested that there was a lack of commitment to what’s being done. I think that was a mistake.

“I think that it is about the north renewing itself, rejuvenating and finding its voice, and Labour has got to surely be the platform that allows that to happen. I hope next year that that isn’t repeated. All political parties have to embrace the notion of letting people take control. I think the country's crying out for it, and the quicker we embrace it the better."

Burnham also claimed that devolution could be "the answer to Brexit" by giving English regions more responsibility in areas like environment, research and infrastructure, which are currently handled by the EU.

He said: "I personally feel that Westminster created Brexit by neglecting parts of the country, particularly the parts that went through the biggest change at the back end of the 20th century, the places that had the big industry. It didn’t have good enough answers for those places and left them to deal with it on their own. That built a feeling that the Westminster and Brussels system combined was set up in the interests of some places and not others. That, I think, is the product of a system that is too centralised.”

Burnham added: "It can’t possibly make sense for Westminster to bring all that power back and then keep that power in an over-centralised London-centric system,” he says. “Why has politics become so turbulent?

"I think there’s a sense that it is fragmenting. National government is struggling to hold it together, so the answer is devolution – let places speak for themselves, do more for themselves, put politics closer to people and let them rebuild a healthier form of politics."

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