The shadow health secretary offered five commitments intended to appeal to Labour members and supporters who are still undecided or minded to support Corbyn, the backbencher and serial party rebel who has become the surprise favourite in the contest.
Burnham claimed that the election, which will end next week with the result to be announced on 12 September, had come down to a “straight choice” between Corbyn and himself and that he understood why his rival’s supporters were so desperate for radicalism.
“I know you are unhappy with politics as usual and you have a desperate desire for big changes. I understand that and share that desire for change,” he wrote, addressing Corbyn supporters directly in an article for Independent Voices.
“I know you feel like we we’ve been dancing to the tune of the Tories for too long. And I feel that frustration too. It’s no wonder people think we’re all the same when they can’t see the difference between us and the Tories on key issues like education and social security.”
Burnham said that people wanted a “bolder, more principled Labour party” and that they wanted it to be clearer about where it opposed the Conservatives. And he identified four government measures that he would oppose unequivocally.
If he became party leader, he said he would fight the welfare bill “line by line to prevent it becoming law”. Burnham spoke out strongly against the bill before its second reading and argued within the shadow cabinet for a vote against it. But he drew criticism during the leadership campaign for reluctantly accepting a compromise to abstain on the main vote after the party had registered its opposition with a reasoned amendment.
His latest statement firms up the stance he took on the day of the vote when he told Labour MPs that, unless the government made major changes to the bill, Labour would vote against it at its third reading under his leadership.
On the education bill, he promised wholehearted opposition. “I will stand up for comprehensive education against the enforced academisation of schools as set out in the education bill,” he said. “The values of comprehensive education should be as intrinsic to our party as the values of the NHS.”
Burnham promised to fight the government’s plans to oppose the extension of the right to buy to housing associations. Labour did oppose this at the general election, but more on the grounds of practicality than on principle.
Burnham was more unequivocal, saying: “Right-to-buy has created a dysfunctional housing market that doesn’t work for people any more. Instead we should be championing policies like ‘rent to own’ and we should lift the borrowing caps on councils so they can build more homes.”
And he reaffirmed his opposition to the trade union bill placing new curbs on the right to strike – a measure that all four Labour leadership candidates are united in condemning.
Burnham said that his fifth pledge was to win the general election. “The polls have shown that of all the candidates standing to be leader, I am best placed to win for Labour in 2020,” he said. “If we don’t win, we can’t deliver a thing and we let the Tories off the hook.”
Two YouGov polls have shown Corbyn on course to win the contest. Burnham is generally thought to have the best chance of beating him, but the Yvette Cooper camp does not accept this and the two former cabinet ministers seem to be attracting similar levels of support. Liz Kendall, the fourth candidate, admits that she is trailing.
On Tuesday, Corbyn will be presenting his vision for arts and culture, intended to promote cultural endeavour at all levels, at an event in Hackney attended by Frank Cottrell Boyce, the writer who produced the storyline for Danny Boyle’s ceremony at the opening of the London Olympics.
Corbyn will also be holding further rallies this week, building on the success of the programme that has now seen more than 30,000 people attend events to hear him speak against austerity.
In a speech on the refugee crisis on Tuesday, Cooper will strongly criticise EU leaders collectively for their response to the problems posed by people trying to enter Europe from Africa.
“This has become a humanitarian crisis on a scale we have not seen on our continent since the second world war,” she will say. “Yet we seem paralysed to respond.”
She will argue that it is vital to distinguish between the need to help people seeking asylum from the wider issue of how to manage immigration.
And she will say the EU needs to do more to support countries like Italy and Greece where refugees arrive, for example by providing more well-resourced asylum processing centres.
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