Andy Burnham has issued his fullest apology yet for Labour overspending before the 2010 election, and denied he had ever said he would not talk to the Sun newspaper.
Speaking on BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, Burnham denied he would boycott the Sun newspaper despite his personal intense opposition to the paper’s coverage of the Hillsborough football disaster. Burnham has been under steady attack in the Sun’s coverage of the Labour leadership contest, in which he is the frontrunner.
Asked whether he had said he would not talk to the Sun, he replied: “I did not say that. I said I will speak to all newspapers, I will speak to the country, of course you have to do that, but I will not do special favours.
“This is where Labour got itself into trouble. It went down on bended knee to certain vested interests in the media and we lost a sense of who we were. We were so close to some of them we could not hear a whole city crying injustice throughout the whole period of a Labour government, and I will never get back to a situation like that.”
The programme featured all four candidates in a Labour leadership hustings. Burnham clashed with Yvette Cooper when she said her clause IV moment would be re-establishing relations with business but insisted it was not correct that Labour had overspent prior to 2010. She also revealed she would support a cut in corporation tax to 18p, one of the plans announced by George Osborne in the budget.
Burnham said: “I don’t think we can win back people’s trust if we say we did everything right on the economy all those years. We did fix the roof when the sun was shining. But the deficit was too high when the crash came. I know that because I was chief secretary to the Treasury in 2007, Alistair Darling said the deficit is too high and we needed to bring it back down.
“If you are honest about your mistakes then I think people will begin to listen to you, and then [you] regain their trust and credibility.”
Pressed by a member of the audience to apologise, he said: “Sorry. It was a mistake, we should not have allowed the deficit to get that high.”
Cooper countered: “We have to take on this idea from the Tories that somehow the deficit caused the financial crisis when the financial crisis caused the deficit. We do not need to swallow Tory myths about what happened in the last Labour government.”
She said the deficit could be brought down in a responsible way, adding that Labour had been able to respond to the crash in 2008 because “we had low debt and Labour had run surpluses. We were strong enough to have the car scrappage scheme that stopped the car industry going bust and to make sure help was given to the banks crashing around us. It is wrong to suggest that anything Labour did with schools, teachers or hospitals caused Lehmann Brothers in New York to crash.”
Asked for his clause IVmoment, Burnham said it would be letting councils borrow more to build houses. He added: “It is to move away from being a Westminster-centric politics and trusting councils and our councillors. People want politicians they can believe in. We have looked like a Westminster thinktank at times. We have been avoiding people’s eyes on immigration at the doorstep.”
Liz Kendall said of Labour’s 2015 election campaign: “If you were not on the minimum wage, owned your own home, ran your own business or were self-employed, we had too little to say. Whenever we have won elections – whether it was in 1945, 1964 or 1997 – we were a party that wanted to help the weak and vulnerable but also those that wanted to work and get on. We were not credible on the economy and people did not trust us with their taxes.
“I am angry about inequality and injustice, but we cannot help the weak and vulnerable simply by raging against the strong. If we carry on saying the same thing as we have said over the past five years or shift to the left, we will be out of power for a generation. If we simply say these are Tory values, we are playing into our opponents’ hands and we will be out of power and we will not be able to do anything to help the weak and vulnerable.”
Corbyn said his clause IV moment would be fighting for equality and challenging the austerity agenda. He said: “We lost the election because we had the wrong economic strategy and we are in danger of losing the next election because we are joining in with the Tories on benefits. We have to offer something different.”
Kendall said clause IV moments could only happen when a leader had been elected. But she added: “If the fundamental problems we have – that people do not trust on the economy or with their taxes, they don’t trust on welfare and they have issues on immigration – we have to take them head on and say something different from the past. Otherwise we will get the same result.”
Cooper said: “We have got to change to win again but we can do that by being true to our Labour values. We have to have a partnership with business or else we will not be able to compete with China and India.” She said she wanted an economy based on hi-tech science jobs, with research and development investment set at 3% of GDP.
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