At a speech in London, the shadow health secretary said he wanted to counter the perception his party wants to give “an easy ride” to people who do not want to help themselves.
“Labour does need to win back those people who have that feeling about us,” he told business leaders at the headquarters of EY (previously Ernst & Young) on Friday. He added that the party would not be re-elected unless it showed people it was on the side of those who wanted to “get on” and succeed.
Asked after the speech about his views on welfare, he said: “I was talking about an impression on the doorstep and there is that feeling, some people say, that Labour want to be soft on people who want something for nothing. We’ve got to be honest about that. That is a feeling that’s out there, that was still being replayed at this election.”
Burnham is trying to dispel the idea that he is the candidate of the party’s left and trade unions, arguing that he is the experienced and loyal choice who can appeal to all sections of the party.
He said Labour was right to challenge indiscriminate welfare cuts, including the bedroom tax. But he suggested there should be further cuts at some level below the Tory proposal for £12bn of savings.
“There are real worries about what £12bn of benefit cuts will mean in terms of effects on carer’s allowance or tax credits,” he said. “This indiscriminate thing where all benefits are lumped together – there is a more sophisticated argument about in- and out-of-work benefits.”
Burnham said he backed the shadow cabinet position on welfare revealed by the acting Labour leader, Harriet Harman, who said the party may be sympathetic to the idea of the government’s plans to lower the cap on benefits to £23,000 a year.
“There are questions about discretionary housing support. I don’t know what plans the government has in respect of that. It hits London disproportionately. So those are what we’re going to look at before we make a final decision [on the cap],” he said.
In his wide-ranging speech, Burnham urged the government to get on with the process of getting more airport runway capacity built in the south-east of England and holding the EU referendum by autumn 2016. He also outlined an ambition to bring in a university-style system for allocating and financing apprenticeships, arguing that the last Labour government let down some young people who did not wish to go down an academic path.
Speaking later in the morning, one of Burnham’s rivals for the Labour leadership, Liz Kendall, said education was the key to social mobility.
Kendall told an audience in Leicester her “Inspiring the future” project would encourage businesses, unions and volunteers to go into state schools and show how it can transform children’s lives.
Speaking of her own ordinary background, she said: “My parents are like many across Britain. Neither on the breadline nor loaded, they were determined to give their daughter all that any of us can ask from our parents: love, security, ambition and hope. And alongside that unconditional love, my parents demanded that I make the best of myself, that I recognise the opportunities that education offered and
the doors it could open. Yet too few get that chance in life.
“I well remember the pride that my parents felt when my brother and I went up to Cambridge, but I also know many friends that I grew up with - brilliant, funny, acutely intelligent girls - who never fulfilled their potential.”
Yvette Cooper, another Labour leadership contender, launched her campaign in Tech City in London, before embarking on a national “listening tour” in constituencies that Labour had been hoping to win.
She called on Labour and Westminster to move on from the “analogue age”, arguing politics is not keeping up with the fact that “Britain is changing fast – through technology, global competition, travel, trade and migration - changing jobs, changing family life, changing communities”.
“We can’t get sucked back in to replaying Miliband v Miliband, Blair v Brown, or trying the old campaign playbooks from the 1990s or the noughties. Britain has moved on. We need answers for tomorrow not yesterday,” she said. One of her big arguments is that central government needs to be closer to people, starting with the break up of Whitehall by taking departments out of London and into different regions.
Despite being the favourite to win, Burnham has been having to field questions about whether he is tainted by association with past Labour leaders and administrations. Burnham, who served under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, said he was loyal to all of them but voiced any criticism behind closed doors.
Asked whether he would let Miliband into his shadow cabinet, Burnham said: “I don’t know what Ed’s plans are for the next few years. He is somebody who I respect greatly, who I am very close to.
“The Labour party would always have room for him to contribute in whatever way he chose was right. But I have not spoken to him about any of those things.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Friday 29th May 2015 12.26 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010