Andy Burnham will try to tap into the surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn by warning that the modern Labour party has become “frightened of its own shadow” and would lack the courage to create the NHS today.
Wading into the debate prompted by Corbyn’s unexpected popularity, Burnham, one of the four leadership candidates, will argue on Tuesday that Labour has abandoned its radical roots.
Speaking to mark the 70th anniversary of the election of Clement Attlee’s government, the shadow health secretary will say: “You would think that would be cause for joyous celebration, but I mark it with a sad realisation that the modern Labour party could not have created the NHS.
“It has become frightened by its own shadow and does not have the courage or capacity to do it. It has become a purveyor of retail politics, trading in the devalued currency of policy gimmicks designed to grab a quick headline but which don’t change the world.”
In a sign of the deep divisions within Labour, Burnham will also criticise opponents of the veteran leftwinger for misjudging the political mood by issuing dire warnings about the danger posed by Corbyn’s success.
Burnham will say it is Labour’s timidity in recent years that explains Corbyn’s success: “The worst possible response to his impact is to resort to negativity and dire warnings of ‘oblivion’. To do that is to misread the mood of the moment.
“What our members are telling us is that they are yearning for a different style of politics from Labour and a break with the bad habits of the past. They are sick of politicians speaking in soundbites, sticking to the script and looking like they don’t believe a word they are saying.”
Labour’s leadership battle is becoming increasingly acrimonious as the candidates fight for attention ahead of the ballot papers being distributed on 14 August. One of Burnham’s supporters has warned that Corbyn “represents the most serious threat of a hard-left victory” since the fight against Militant Tendency in the 1980s.
Keith Dibble, the chair of the Labour First group, joined forces with supporters of Yvette Cooper to write a letter urging people intending to vote for Liz Kendall to assist with the effort to stop Corbyn.
The letter – written to the Blairite Progress group, which is supporting Kendall – calls on party members to use their second and third preference votes to support Cooper or Burnham against Corbyn.
The letter was released after the Sunday Times reported that leftwing activists are seeking to infiltrate the Labour leadership contest to back Corbyn. The newspaper said they are paying the £3 fee to become registered Labour supporters in order to vote in the contest.
However, the Socialist party – the successor to Militant Tendency – described the claims as “wholly inaccurate” and said they “reflect the terror of the rightwing clique that dominates the Labour party at the wave of enthusiasm Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign is generating”.
The party said it wishes Corbyn well and that, win or lose, he should join forces with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to challenge what it calls Labour’s rightwing elements.
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