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Labour Party must unite: Andy Burnham

Published 24/08/2015

The Labour Party should unite in opposing the Government and fighting for power, rather than "turning inward and talking to ourselves", leadership contender Andy Burnham will say tonight.

The shadow health secretary is expected to call for unity and warn against infighting at a rally in London.

But he was dealt a blow as former prime minister Gordon Brown gave his backing to rival candidate Yvette Cooper.

Mr Brown - who previously issued a thinly veiled warning against electing left-wing frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn - has given Mr Burnham his second-preference vote and Liz Kendall his third, his office said.

It comes as Mr Corbyn rejected claims the party would split if he is elected to Labour's top job.

Senior party figures are expected to meet tomorrow amid concerns card-carrying Tories signed up as Labour supporters under new rules in order to vote for radical candidate Mr Corbyn, the one they believe will keep the Conservatives in government.

Speaking at a rally at St Pancras Parish Church in north London tonight, Mr Burnham is expected to say: "The longer this contest goes on, the more Labour risks turning inward and talking to ourselves.

"I am very clear that under my leadership we will have the strongest opposition ever - taking on the Tories, getting after them day in day out, setting out a clear and radical alternative.

"But we need more. Under my leadership we will also build a party that will not just take the Tories on, but kick the Tories out."

Mr Burnham is expected to tell supporters that a "wrong turn" risks subjecting the country to "two decades of Tories".

He will say: "We let that happen once before and I will fight with everything I've got to stop it happening again.

"As I have travelled the country speaking to members and supporters, I sense that some are already giving up on winning the next election.

"I don't share that view. If we give up on winning then we are giving up on the millions of people who are struggling and need a Labour government. This is not a time for defeatism, I believe we can win if this party pulls together, and I believe I am the only person who can unite Labour to win in 2020.

"I will make two promises to you tonight. The Labour Party I lead will be the most hard-working opposition that anyone has ever seen, we will run the Government ragged every day. And we will be an opposition fighting not for its own causes, but one that is fighting to win power."

Mr Burnham has enjoyed high-profile backing from party heavyweights including former deputy prime minister John Prescott, although Mr Corbyn remains bookmakers' favourite to land the job when it is announced next month following the ballot of Labour members.

Mr Corbyn's dramatic transformation from rank outsider to frontrunner in the race against Mr Burnham, Ms Cooper and Ms Kendall for the leadership has sent shockwaves through Labour and prompted fears it would force the party to split.

But Mr Corbyn told the Financial Times: "I don't think there is any appetite for people to walk away from (the party).

"I appreciate there are only a relatively small number (of MPs) who actually willingly nominated me," he said.

"The number of MPs making 'noises off' at the moment is actually quite small," he added. "A lot of MPs are looking to see what happens and what role they can fulfil."

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