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Andy Burnham: I will leave the Commons to tackle North-South divide

Published 18/05/2016

Andy Burnham has laid into England's elitism and "London-centric" mentality as he launched his bid to become the mayor of Greater Manchester.

The former cabinet minister, who has been an MP since 2001, said he is ready to leave the Commons to tackle the North-South divide and make Manchester a "beacon of social justice".

Mr Burnham, who will face opposition for the Labour nomination for the 2017 contest from interim mayor Tony Lloyd and former minister Ivan Lewis, said it was time for the North to "rise again" by grabbing more powers as devolution is rolled out across the regions.

In a speech to Labour supporters at Salford Quays, regenerated docklands now home to the BBC and other media companies, Mr Burnham said England needs to "rebalance the cultural, media and financial power of the country" as he launched his mayoral campaign.

He also spoke of a deficit of aspiration in the North but also of the "wrench" of having to leave his northern roots to go to London to get on in the world.

He said: "It's harder sometimes growing up in the North West of England, isn't it?

"Because you say to somebody, 'Oh, do you know what, I'd like to be a doctor, or I'd like to be a lawyer, or a member of Parliament', you would worry that you'd have the mickey taken out of you straight away.

"In a good way sometimes, brought back down to earth, but because of that mentality perhaps we don't lift our sights a bit and walk a bit taller and feel confident and say, 'Yeah, do you know what, I can do that'.

"That is what I'm all about. I believe that young people here can achieve the same if not more than the young people anywhere else in this country, but sadly who currently have better opportunities to get on, because they've got the right accent, or they know the right people, or they went to the right school.

"I want the same and more for the people of Greater Manchester."

The shadow home secretary said the North had seen the birth of the Industrial Revolution and great social movements like the Co-operative movement and the suffragettes.

The North should now put its own stamp on devolution, he said, with a focus on schools, a new model for social care and an emphasis on enterprise, equality and social justice.

He said the Westminster system had made England a very unequal country and "failed" the North - and the problem was getting worse.

He continued: "It's about changing this country, that London-centric mentality, that dominates all areas of our national life. I'm sick of it, I'm fed up with it, I hear it all the time.

"I'm making a statement today, London's not the only place that matters. I'm ready to leave it, if you all agree."

The Liverpool-born MP for Leigh, part of Greater Manchester, said the much-vaunted Northern Powerhouse - Chancellor George Osborne's plan for more powers for the big northern city regions - "needs a set of jump leads".

Mr Burnham set out plans for an integrated health and care service, measures to buy homes off absentee landlords and proposals for a "revolution" in technical education.

He also touched on the issue of immigration, saying he had a "growing feeling" politics is not speaking to the people of the North West of England and the Labour Party needed a stronger northern voice.

He continued: "Again, on that issue, the London perspective dominates the airwaves.

"People here are welcoming. They want people to come in and work and contribute. But there are particular issues that arise, such as the pressure on public services, the effect on wages, but those issues haven't been properly aired and debated and responded to by political parties, all of whom - I include our own in that, you have heard me say this before - have been too London-centric down the years."

Increased powers and billions of pounds in spending power will be devolved from Whitehall to English regions under Government plans.

Labour's candidate for mayor will be chosen by party members later this year with the election taking place at the same time as next year's local elections.

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