Future of Labour Party 'hangs in balance', says leadership hopeful Andy Burnham


Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham has warned that Labour's future "hangs in the balance" as he insisted he was the only candidate able to unite the party.

The shadow health secretary told activists in Manchester there is a "good deal of common ground" between him and Jeremy Corbyn on some of the major policy areas, including transport and education, as he reached out to supporters of the frontrunner.

But he warned there is a "real risk of division" following the increasingly bitter leadership contest and told the party it must "unite".

Mr Burnham also told supporters he would oppose the Government's contentious Welfare Bill if he wins the contest.

Speaking at the People's History Museum in Manchester, he said: "Labour can't hark back to 70s or 80s style solutions but instead needs to open its mind to radical ideas of this kind that could reinvigorate our democracy at a local level and lift the lives of millions.

"So on the biggest issues of all - on the EU, the economy and public services - there is now a real choice before our party.

"And the way we choose to go will define us as a political force in the rest of this century.

"Coming out of this contest, there is a real risk of division and that is why I am presenting my vision today as the only one that can unite our party.

"And I believe I am the person who can unite us too."

Mr Burnham said Mr Corbyn had brought "real energy to this race" and he would "involve" his rival in his team from the outset.

But he said it was crucial for Labour to have a "credible" plan for public finances and criticised the Islington North MP's opaque stance on Britain's future in the European Union as well as his plans for renationalisation of utilities and "printing money" to pay for infrastructure.

"My worry is that policies like these would leave us open to losing the argument on the economy on day one."

He added: "I won't let our party repeat the history of the early 1980s when we were more interested in fighting each other and we left the pitch clear for Margaret Thatcher to bulldoze her way through Labour communities up and down the country.

"I won't let those Bullingdon Boys - the heirs to Thatcher - do the same to people in 2015 as she did in 1985.

"That was the year I joined Labour here in the North West. I have given my life to it ever since.

"I am now fighting to win this contest with everything I've got because the very future of our party hangs in the balance."