Andy Burnham is on the cusp of creating history.
With Greater Manchester set to head to the polls on May 4, the Labour Party candidate and former Shadow Home Secretary is the clear favourite to become the region’s first ever elected mayor.
Success would see the Leigh MP embark on a new political challenge which will make him the region’s foremost politician, possessing the powers to tackle the big issues affecting Greater Manchester.
During his 16 years as an MP, Burnham has never made any attempts to conceal his northern roots.
Although this has previously led to some derisively labelling him a ‘professional northerner’, it is clear that he possesses a genuine passion for the region in which he has spent the majority of his life.
“I spent my youth around Manchester. My first proper job was at the Middleton Guardian and before that, when I got home from university, I worked on Portland Street, so that was when I famously bought my tickets to see the Stone Roses at the Empress Ballroom!
“If you look back at the history of Greater Manchester it’s kind of radical, it’s a belief in prosperity but also principle and doing the right thing.
“I would say that it has very much forged my political mindset and philosophy.”
Burnham’s close links to Merseyside, coupled with the fact that he ran for the Labour Party leadership in the summer of 2015, meant that it came as a surprise to many last year when he announced his intention to run in the mayoral election.
Yet while some political commentators have viewed his decision as a case of jumping a sinking ship, with Labour seemingly in disarray at a national level, Burnham insists that the decision is solely motivated by the opportunity to have a greater political influence.
“I genuinely think that the devolution of power to Greater Manchester provides more opportunity to achieve what I came into politics to achieve than staying in Westminster.
I challenged the Prime Minister today on record levels of homelessness in Greater Manchester. No answer. Needs to be General Election issue. https://t.co/XILXDKpqwb
— Andy Burnham (@andyburnhammp) April 19, 2017
“What got me politicised in the first place was a sense of unfairness about the way the country was run: the north was effectively treated as second-class, that was very much the feeling that we had growing up in the 80s, that was everywhere, and it was that kind of spirit that propelled me towards politics.
“Having been in Westminster for 16 years, I feel I have managed to do some things about that but in the end I don’t think Westminster is going to do something about the North-South divide any time soon.
“The arrival of devolution in England is a better chance to genuinely do something about that rather than carrying on doing more of the same in Westminster.”
If the gap between north and south is to be bridged any time soon then few are better placed, or more determined, to do so than Burnham. Throughout his campaign he has eulogised about the radical history and spirit of Greater Manchester, and with young people very much at the heart of his manifesto it is clear that he is hopeful of tapping into some of that revolutionary zeal himself.
“Politics in recent times has become quite transactional, quite focus-group driven, promising things for older people because they’re the ones who vote.
“Sometimes it has gone away from doing what is the right thing to do. I want to break with that, and with the advice and the consultations that we’ve done, we’ve put young people at the heart of our manifesto.
“I suppose that my appeal is that this is actually the right thing to do because it will build a stronger and more prosperous Greater Manchester in the long run, so I’m appealing to that bigger picture but also the commitments I’m making around the living wage, around tackling homelessness and rough sleeping.
“It’s about saying yeah, we want to get on, but we want everyone to get on as well and we want to create a more equal Greater Manchester.
“I’m appealing to that spirit – that has always been here – of people who do want to get on but they don’t forget those in the doorways, and that’s what characterises the people here.
“It’s what characterises the Mancunian and the Greater Mancunian mindset.”
As he prepares to bring down the curtain on his Westminster career, the 47-year-old has become a more peripheral figure within the House of Commons.
— Runforthe96 (@HillsboroughAnf) April 19, 2017
Yet, in what could be his last major contribution as an MP, Burnham presented the Hillsborough Law to parliament earlier last month, a proposed bill which requires public officials to be truthful at inquiries and ensures legal aid for bereaved families.
Burnham’s role in securing justice for the Hillsborough families is arguably his finest political achievement to date.
Following the humiliating reception he received when attending the 20th anniversary of the disaster at Anfield in 2009, his willingness to listen, and subsequently act, marked him out as a rare quantity in modern politics, a decent man willing to stand up for ordinary people.
His love of football (he has been an Everton season ticket holder since he was a child) and impressive musical knowledge are often cited as proof of Burnham’s status as a ‘man of the people’. It is such interests which make him more relatable to northern voters than many of his Westminster colleagues.
And despite his love of Manchester-based music already being well-documented, MM could not resist the opportunity to ask him for his favourite three songs recorded by Greater Manchester artists.
“I have so many, I always hate choosing them. I’m going to choose a Stone Roses song, I’ll be controversial and choose ‘All For One’.
“That embodies that spirit of Manchester that I’m talking about, the values, that collective over individual, and I thought it was a better song than they got given credit for actually.
“Number two – I’ll say ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ by The Verve – I love that song. Number three – I did a meeting today in a venue where I saw The Smiths in 1986, so they’re on my mind today. My favourite Smiths song would probably be ‘How Soon Is Now?’
“It’s a timeless, brilliant song.”
DOING THINGS BETTER
Whilst he may have passed that assessment, the real test for Burnham will come on May 4. Many have him down as the clear favourite to win, but should he do so, how would he like to be looked back on ten years from now?
“I think as somebody who was true to the spirit of the place really, that understood the history, understood the people and tried then to apply that value set to the modern challenges.
“I believe very strongly that devolution of power to Greater Manchester is a chance for the voice and the values of the people here to shine through more loudly than before.
“I feel we can begin to emerge as a beacon of social justice to the rest of the country so everyone else will look here and go ‘God, they are doing things better there’, they have given a bit more hope to young people, they have largely got rid of the rough sleeping problem, they have started to deal with the housing crisis, there are more people getting a living wage, and as a result society is better and moving forward.
“That’s what I hope, that we can show that there’s a better way of doing things and rebuild some trust in politics.”
Image courtesy of Runforthe96 via Twitter, with thanks.