Andy Burnham: “The problem now is, to a large degree, the Chancellor”

The Greater Manchester mayor on his ongoing battle with the government over Covid-19 restrictions and feeling “semi-detached” from Labour.

Andy Burnham wishes he could ask Rishi Sunak what changed. What happened to “the generous Chancellor”, “almost the wartime Chancellor”, from the start of the coronavirus pandemic? “Why has he not followed through the logic of what he was doing?” asks the Mayor of Greater Manchester: “to help the country through the temporary crisis of coronavirus, to get into a faster recovery when it comes? I mean, that’s what I thought he was doing. But he seemed to change course, dramatically, in the middle of it. It became a more traditional Treasury, you know, ‘pull in your horns’-type thing. I really, really don’t understand.” What happened, he wonders, to “whatever it takes”?

“The ‘whatever it takes’ moment feels so long ago to me now. I mean, that feels like a world away. The shock was Bolton for me: you know, a Conservative-controlled council.” The city’s pubs and restaurants were ordered to shut, except for takeaway, on 8 September, but with no additional financial support package. “They closed down people’s workplaces overnight with nothing, basically. And I kept thinking, well, they’ll do something there, and they just never did. And that to me was, wow, we’re really in a different world here.” 

Burnham, 50, is at the centre of a battle with the government, and it is caused, he argues, by Sunak’s change of approach. “I think the problem now is, to a large degree, the Chancellor. I think he’s made wrong judgements throughout this.” (“I actually quite like him,” Burnham adds later. “This isn’t personal.”) The Eat Out to Help Out scheme was “a poor judgement” and “the wrong message” coming out of lockdown.“The cost of that should have been paying for the furlough now,” Burnham argues, as the hospitality workers whom that scheme aimed to support now face further closures. “The Treasury funded more or less the more gimmicky things, and they haven’t funded proper support.” 

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We are speaking, via videolink, on the morning (16 October) after an extraordinary press conference in which Burnham, on behalf of all of the local leaders in Greater Manchester, emphatically rejected the government’s plans to place the region under Tier 3 of coronavirus restrictions. He said he could not accept the people of Greater Manchester being treated “as canaries in the coalmine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy”, one he said even the government’s own medical advisers did not think would work. He argues that there isn’t enough financial support for Manchester and the surrounding area to move into the “very high” level, and wants the area to stay in Tier 2, “working towards a national circuit breaker at the right time.”

Burnham had woken up to find his face on the front page of many of that day’s newspapers, with the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, both accusing him of “playing party politics”. He deeply resents that …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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