UK heading for most unpleasant and divisive general election in our lifetimes, says Andy Burnham

The Mayor of Greater Manchester said the Conservatives are going to make it ‘as toxic as they can’

The UK is heading for the “most unpleasant, divisive general election we will ever see in our lifetimes”, Andy Burnham has said.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester said the Conservatives are “betting the shop” on culture wars and are going to “make it as toxic as they can”.

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It came as Mr Burnham said he would scrap the whips system in the House of Commons, which he argued treats MPs like schoolchildren.

Andy BurnhamAndy Burnham
Andy Burnham

He also said the UK feels broken and needs to be “fundamentally re-wired”, with more autonomy for Scotland and the regions of England.

Mr Burnham, who served in former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown’s Cabinet, made the comments during an on-stage interview at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

He said: “Let’s be honest, I think we’re heading into the most unpleasant, divisive general election we will ever see in our lifetimes. The Tories are betting the shop on culture wars, and they’re going to make it as toxic as they can make them. They’re already doing it.”

He referenced Tory MP and deputy party chair Lee Anderson recently saying asylum seekers should “f*** off back to France” if they don’t want to stay on barges.

Mr Burnham said: “You see a rhetoric coming out from them that I don’t think I would ever see in my political lifetime. F off back to Fance? Can you imagine an elected representative of the Conservative party in the British Parliament using language like that? Did you ever think you would see that happen? Honestly, I can’t imagine. And yet he’s deputy chairman of the bloody party.”

He added: “So we know what’s coming. In those circumstances, what do you do? Do you go fight on that territory, or do you get on a massively different plane and say, No, we believe in a very different vision of a country that’s about respect, standards, equality, justice, things that people can believe in.

“I think that’s where the public mood is right now. The public see that there’s a need for a rewiring [of the UK]. I think that’s where people are. The danger is that as the problems get bigger the politics gets smaller. That can’t be allowed.”

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He added: “Obviously oppositions are cautious. But we’re hitting that point now where I think [Labour] have put themselves in a position where the country’s listening, and there is that opportunity to put that hopeful platform out there.”

Elsewhere, Mr Burnham said the norms of British politics “don't let people be what they want to be, speak with their voice”. He said: "You know what I would do? I would remove the whips system from the Commons. Also, I've come to the view that we need to change the way the Commons is elected. I'm now a very strong proponent – I've got the zeal of the convert about proportional representation."

The whips are in charge of maintaining discipline within their parties and ensuring MPs vote in line with the leadership.

Mr Burnham said: "We should have a system in politics where the status of elected representatives is higher, not that they're just told how to vote like a school kid. It's a case of, use your best judgement for your place. And politics would be held in better esteem, I think, if it was organised in that way.

"The whips system, the effect of it is to take power off elected representatives and concentrate it in the hands of the unelected advisers and civil servants, 50 or 100 or so at the heart of government. And that's what I say – the Westminster system concentrates too much power in the hands of too few people."

Mr Burnham previously ran for the Labour leadership in 2010 and 2015, losing to Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn respectively. Asked if would run again, he said he was standing for a third term as mayor.

He added: “I’m hopeful that we will have a Labour Government led by Keir Starmer. I’m hoping it will bring hope and radical change to the way the country’s run that I’ve described today. And I want to play my part in that.

"But, to answer your question, if a path opens up in time, then of course I’m not going to turn away from that, so I think there potentially is one last go at Westminster in me, somewhere. But – I want to be clear about this though – it would only be going back to enact what I’ve talked about today. Honestly, no other reason.”

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He continued: “If – and it’s not any time soon, and it’s certainly not in any way a statement on the current situation – if people felt that was right, and it was the sort of thing that was natural, then of course I wouldn’t turn away from it.”



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