He used his party conference speech to launch a campaign ahead of the coming referendum to change EU free movement rules to prevent migration being used to undercut wage levels in Britain and to ensure direct European funding of British towns and cities under pressure from migration.
Burnham also indicated a significant shift in the party’s policy on policing by dropping its opposition to elected police and crime commissioners and pledging to make it his personal priority to uncover the full story of “historical injustices” at Hillsborough and Orgreave and the “false imprisonment” of Shrewsbury building workers during the 1980s.
He also made an emotional appeal to former shadow cabinet members who have refused to serve under Jeremy Corbyn to return to the fold. “I stand here because I promised you I would always put party first,” he said. “I ask my colleagues to do the same.”
Burnham’s declared desire to “reframe the debate on immigration” as part of his “mission to win back those lost voters from Ukip” appeared to contrast with Corbyn’s remarks in a BBC Today programme interview that he “did not necessarily look upon immigration as a problem”.
Burnham went out of his way in his speech to stress that he shared “Jeremy’s vision of a social Europe” but added that “for far too long Labour” had gone along with the idea that EU free movement on the current rules benefited everyone and all areas.
The new shadow home secretary insisted that the free movement rules were being exploited to undercut wages, undermine job security and create a race-to-the-bottom.
Instead he proposed that the coming EU renegotiation and referendum was a chance to argue for new rules to protect the wagesof skilled workers and for direct EU funding of places where schools, GPs and housing are under greatest migration pressure.
“Let’s seize the opportunity to put Labour back on the front foot and back in touch,” he said, adding that such reforms gave a chance to end the neglect of Britain’s poorest communities most affected by immigration. He insisted later that the rules would not mean paying everyone the same across Europe but would protect “the going rate for skilled workers” and provide a sector-by-sector and country-by-country safety net to prevent wage undercutting without requiring treaty changes.
Burnham also declared his intention to “fight for our police” as he had fought for the NHS and warned that cuts in police funding expected next month will “have every burglar in the land” cheering.
But he added that a police service that was fit for the future required it to be honest about its past. He said that the full story of what went on at the Hillsborough football disaster wouldn’t be known until the truth came out about what the same police force – South Yorkshire – did to the miners in the aftermath of 1984’s “Battle of Orgreave”.
“And to understand how an anti-trade union culture developed in parts of the police, we need the full story about the false convictions and imprisonment of building workers in Shrewsbury,” he said.
“I will make it my personal priority in this job to put the pieces of this jigsaw together – alongside other historical injustices we have seen: the abuse of stop and search powers against black and Asian young people; and particularly child sex exploitation,” he said adding that justice demanded the full truth.
This article was written by Alan Travis Home affairs editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 30th September 2015 14.59 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010