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Labour's Burnham in call for change

Published 17/05/2015

Andy Burnham, pictured speaking at the Progress annual conference, warned things could get even worse for Labour
Andy Burnham, pictured speaking at the Progress annual conference, warned things could get even worse for Labour

Labour leadership frontrunner Andy Burnham has insisted he is the "change candidate" as he made a bold bid to outflank David Cameron on Europe.

Admitting that the party should have taken more care of the public finances when in government, Mr Burnham said he had listened to voters on the issue of an in-out EU referendum - and demanded one be held by next year.

The comments, in an interview on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, came as tensions within the party over its future direction burst into the open.

Labour's leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, branded Unite union boss Len McCluskey the "kiss of death" as he announced his resignation yesterday.

And Jon Cruddas, who carried out a policy review for Ed Miliband, warned that the party was facing a "great crisis". He said whoever won the contest for the top job needed to "go to the dark places and fundamentally rethink what the Labour Party is for, who it represents, what it's all about".

Announcing that shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves was backing him for the leadership, Mr Burnham denied he was the "union candidate" and said he wanted to focus on restoring the party's economic credibility and addressing voter concerns on immigration.

"I am the change candidate because we have got to reach out to those voters who had doubts about us on immigration and economic competence," he said.

"If we are going to rebuild that trust we need to have an honest assessment of the record of the last Labour government on the economy.

"We need to make a break with the past. We need to establish economic competence.

"Rachel Reeves, who is backing my campaign ... will lead work in this area for me about re-establishing our reputation on the economy, having a pro-business approach so that we go into the next election with a very strong policy."

Mr Burnham cautioned that the party may not have reached "ground zero", and things could still get worse.

"I have been watching how public opinion has been changing. There is clearly an appetite for (an EU) referendum," he said.

"That is why I am the change candidate in this election. I have said very clearly and quickly that we need to bring forward that referendum, because the worst of all worlds is a prolonged period of uncertainty and argument.

"I want to make the pro-European case in this referendum. It is clear to me that the British interest is in staying in the EU.

"But I am warning that we will only be able to win that argument if we have a credible package of reforms on immigration.

"The public are asking for this. If we don't deliver it, if David Cameron does not deliver it then we will be sleepwalking to exit from the EU."

Tory peer Lord Heseltine said there was an "element of attractiveness" in holding an EU referendum before 2017.

But the former deputy prime minister insisted the important thing was the nature of any arrangement, rather than the timing.

He told Sky News' Murnaghan: "The first priority I would guess for the Prime Minister and Chancellor dealing with this issue is to get a conclusion they believe in.

"From Britain's point of view that must be the right priority.

"If it can be done quicker, that would enable the referendum to be done earlier.

"But the important thing is the nature of the arrangement, not the precise timing."

Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg said the "touchstone" for renegotiation ahead of the EU referendum would be the free movement of people.

The Tory MP, who sat on the European Scrutiny Committee in the last parliament, said it was both symbolically important and an issue of "deep concern" for the British people.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "I think the touchstone for renegotiation will be the free movement of people.

"It is one of the core freedoms of the EU and if the EU is willing to give ground on that, it will show it's willing to consider a fundamental reform rather than just tinkering at the edges.

"So it's symbolically important as well as representing a deep concern of the British people."

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, Mr McCluskey also questioned the principle of freedom of movement.

Saying the Left needed to "challenge" Ukip, he said: "That means in my opinion we need to seriously debate the free movement of labour."

The Labour leadership battle is currently being fought by Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham, with Tristram Hunt also expected to throw his hat in the ring.

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