The shadow health secretary, who is the favourite for the leadership, over Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, will promise an audience of business leaders on Friday that he would improve Labour’s reputation on the economy and ensure it values the contribution to society made by those who run companies.
All the candidates have now talked of the need to champion wealth creators in a significant change in tone from Ed Miliband’s rhetoric about standing up to corporate vested interests.
In a big day for the leadership contenders, Burnham, Cooper and Kendall will hold rival events as their campaigns begin to intensify before the official nominations and hustings with voters over the summer.
Cooper is formally launching a nationwide “listening tour” to hear from Labour members, Labour voters and those who turned away from the party at the general election. The shadow home secretary will hold a seminar for entrepreneurs in London before travelling north, stopping at marginal seats that Labour lost as well as those they won, and ending the day in Castleford, West Yorkshire, where she was first selected in 1997.
It comes the day after Cooper delivered a speech in the House of Commons in which she positioned Labour as the party that would stand up for “the outward-looking positive country we have always been: Great Britain not little England”.
Meanwhile, Kendall will deliver a speech in Leicester about why she went into politics and why she is running to be the Labour leader.
Burnham’s speech will say a party under his leadership would make sure those who show the spirit of enterprise would be “as much our heroes as the nurse or the teacher”.
The former health secretary will argue part of the way his party “got it wrong on business ... was that we simply didn’t say enough that we value what you do: creating jobs and wealth”.
“We didn’t celebrate the spirit of enterprise,” he will say. “Far too rarely over the last few years has Labour spoken up in praise of the everyday heroes of our society. The small businessman or woman, the sole trader, the innovator, the inventor, the entrepreneur. The small businesses that become big businesses. The people with the creative spark to think of a new idea and the get-up-and-go to make it work. Who often have to fight against the odds to succeed, but put in the hours, the sweat and the hard graft to do it.
“So I want this message to go out loud and clear today: Labour must always champion wealth creation, and show we understand that if we want high-skill, high-wage jobs then we have to support the businesses that create them.”
Burnham’s business-friendly message may be partly designed to provide a balance to the idea that he is the candidate favoured by the left of the party and trade unions. He will also, like the other candidates, talk about Labour needing to champion aspiration.
In what may be seen as a dig at Labour colleague Tristram Hunt, who talked about needing to appeal to people who shop at John Lewis and is now backing Kendall, Burnham will say: “Politicians make a terrible mistake when they try to compartmentalise the voters and speak only to the hope and dreams of some in certain parts of the country. Aspiration is not the preserve of those who shop at John Lewis. Aspiration is universal; it is felt by Asda and Aldi shoppers, too.
“Labour didn’t just lose votes to our traditional enemy. We lost them to Ukip in many seats across England and Wales and to the SNP in Scotland. We could see this as three separate defeats, requiring three separate remedies. But Labour must take care not to fall into that trap.”
In a further analysis of the party’s election defeat, Burnham will say the party’s approach was too narrow in appealing to a core section of voters.
“I have never believed in levelling down, denigrating success or the politics of envy. Nor have I believed that people should be handed everything on a plate. It worries me that, in some people’s eyes, Labour has become associated with giving people who don’t want to help themselves an easy ride. That must change before we can win again,” he will say.
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