Speaking after he was declared the party’s candidate for the role, the MP for Leigh said he would not hesitate to take different policy positions to the Labour leader if it was the right thing for people living in the region.
“I’d always be respectful of the position of the leader of the party, but my primary job will be to represent the people of Greater Manchester and to make their voices heard on the national stage even if that means at times challenging or contradicting national Labour policy,” he said.
Burnham won 51% of a vote from party members in the region, beating the area’s police and crime commissioner and interim mayor, Tony Lloyd (29%), and the MP for Bury South, Ivan Lewis, who was a government minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (19.8%). Burnham won the contest with 3,792 votes to Lloyd’s 2,163 and Lewis’s 1,472, on a turnout of 65.3%.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, congratulated Burnham on his victory, saying the mayoral race would be an opportunity for Labour to take its message of social justice to the region’s 2 million voters in next year’s election.
The shadow home secretary said he would stand down as an MP at the “first and earliest opportunity” if he won the race to become mayor next May, as appears likely given that almost all of Manchester’s council seats are filled by Labour.
Asked during a press conference after the announcement whether he would resign from the shadow cabinet, Burnham said: “Next month there will be a decision on the leadership of our party going forward and it will then be for the leader of the party to decide whether or not I remain in the shadow cabinet.”
“I think Labour does need to break out of its Westminster-centric mode,” Burnham later told the Guardian. “I’m standing in this to give Labour a stronger northern identity, to stop our voice being drowned out by Scotland – which is what I perceive to have been happening in recent times – and to put Labour back in touch with the voters that we’ve lost here.
“I see this as a crucial part of Labour’s rejuvenation in the long term going back to the grass roots, because I don’t see Westminster Labour coming up with the solutions any time soon.”
The shadow home secretary said the “London perspective on life” dominated British political debate and had left many people feeling abandoned.
“People voted leave [in the EU referendum] for a whole complicated set of reasons, with that being one of them. Mainstream political parties will not get many chances to respond to what people are saying before they look elsewhere.”
Despite having been an MP for 15 years, and a frontbencher for about eight of those years, Burnham denied that he was part of the Westminster bubble he claimed to oppose. “In the cabinet pre-2010, I was speaking about the failure to respond to legitimate concerns on immigration,” he said.
“I stood in 2010 for the leadership complaining about a London-centric Labour party and I did it again last year. I don’t think people can accuse me of always being part of the club … I’ve always criticised it and challenged it.”
If he were to win in May and relocate from Westminster, the mayoral hopeful said he would miss his many friends and the power parliament affords to effect change quickly. “But I won’t miss the slight snobbery of the place, the slight dislike of accents, the old-school ways of doing things, the Oxbridge and public school atmosphere,” Burnham added.
The creation of elected mayors is a condition of a series of devolution arrangements agreed by the former chancellor George Osborne and a series of “metro” regions, including the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, the Liverpool and Sheffield city regions, the Tees valley, the north-east, and Greater Lincolnshire.
The mayor of Greater Manchester, a city region with a population of 3.5 million which covers Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan, will have control over a portfolio of public services and a £900m, 30-year investment fund, and will sit on a board that oversees a devolved £6bn health and social care budget.
Voting to select Labour’s candidates in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and the Liverpool city region closed at 12pm on Friday. To be eligible to vote, Labour members were required to live in the relevant city region and have been a member of the party before 19 July 2015, a rule that has excluded a high proportion of the party’s new membership. The poll was conducted using the alternative vote system, and votes were cast by post and online.
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