From selfies with young fans to policy speeches and pub karaoke, Andy Burnham was never far from the limelight at this year’s Labour’s party conference.
But while the rumour mill went into overdrive that he is gearing up to try and succeed Starmer in a future leadership race, some Labour insiders believe he’s pushed his luck.
“Andy has overplayed his hand this conference by being so blatant,” one insider said.
“There were lots of people auditioning for the leadership in Brighton, and at least two, Burnham and Angela Rayner, have damaged their chances with their own egos.
“Starmer will survive this conference, bruised but not broken and the people who did best on their mission to be his successor were those who defended the leader, not those who distanced themselves.
“Wes Streeting is a key example. Powerful speeches and supportive of the leadership but making clear he is a talent.”
The Mayor of Greater Manchester and other regional mayors were denied their own standalone speeches in the conference hall during the five-day event, which some took as an attempt by the leadership to keep potential rivals at bay.
Instead some of the biggest names – London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Liverpool mayor Steve Rotherham and West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin – worked the fringe circuit hard, meeting party members, attending drinks receptions and making sure they had huge visibility.
Burnham, who made no secret of his displeasure at not getting his own speech, was invited to speak at eleven fringe events, and turned up to most of them, setting out what Labour has achieved in power in the north.
He also stressed that Labour can build itself back to strength in the regions, and made much of his plan to ask Levelling Up minister Michael Gove for a bespoke deal for the area when the Conservatives arrive in Manchester for their own party conference this weekend.
On Tuesday in a talk with the Mayor for West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, teenage Labour activists queued up to get photographs taken with him at the end and just a few hours later he was on the mic at the Mirror’s confernence party singing alongside deputy leader Angela Rayner.
But despite his obvious popularity among members in Brighton, his starry presence has also rankled those close to the leadership.
One insider said: “Everywhere you looked in Brighton, Burnham was promising one thing to one fringe and another to a rally.”
Burnham has said repeatedly that he will serve the end of this second term as mayor, and that he wants Keir Starmer to win the next election and will give him support to do that.
However he has run for Labour leadership twice before and there is an expectation he wants to go for the top job in the future. Rumours also started to build this conference that Burnham’s own path back to Westminster will rely on a Manchester based MP making way for him.
Two seats being discussed openly in the bars at conference were Brackley and Buckley, the seat of veteran MP Graham Stringer, 71, who has had the seat since 1997, and Tony Lloyd, also 71, who represents Rochdale. There is no suggestion either man intends on standing down.
A Labour source said: “There is a rumour that Graham Stringer would stand down for him in a by-election but others don’t think the relationship is strong enough there to make that arrangement.”
But many in the Labour party were pleased that Burnham had been at conference and said he had helped boost the party’s overall message.
One MP said: “Obviously Andy Burnham should be at conference. He’s one of our best communicators and people know who he is and recognise him. Sadiq [Khan] was at events here aswell.”
They added that it was “unfair” to accuse him of using the conference to remind the party he’s a potential contender for the leadership in the future.
“He’s a national politician for Labour and obviously he is going to come to conference.”
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