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Andy Burnham interview

On Sunday 10 October 2010 Andrew Marr interviewed Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham.

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.


ANDREW MARR:

Now then lots of political rows in the education world, as we were hearing earlier. And at last we do have a Shadow Education Secretary, the former Labour Leadership candidate Andy Burnham, who's also been made Labour's Election Coordinator, so he presumably has an insight into the party's thinking under its new Leader, Ed Miliband. Andy Burnham joins us from Manchester. Good morning to you.

ANDY BURNHAM:

Good morning, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

Can I just start by asking - I know it's not directly on your pitch, but very closely related to it - the story about tuition fees going rocketing up, but there being some kind of mechanism whereby better paid graduates in due course would pay a little bit more back than less well paid graduates. Isn't that the kind of compromise that perhaps this new more kind of liberal Labour party should support?

ANDY BURNHAM:

Well we need to see the detail, Andrew, when the Browne Report comes out this week. Labour commissioned the Browne Report because quite clearly there are some very difficult choices to be made about the funding of universities going into the future. But actually I hear some very worrying noises coming out over this weekend. We hear a leak today saying that the markets should be able to decide fees and that there be no cap on the fees that universities can charge. Well you know my worry about that would be that that could entrench privilege and elitism in our university system and take the prestigious universities away from those from ordinary backgrounds like myself. Twenty or more years ago, I left this area to go to Cambridge on a full grant to study English, and we're also hearing that Humanities and Arts degrees may not be funded and people may pay higher fees for those. So I worry greatly that we might be about to build a university system that is out of reach of ordinary families.

ANDREW MARR:

Is there a Labour alternative on the table?

ANDY BURNHAM:

Well we need to look at the detail of the Browne Review, but we have spoken about the principle that those who earn more should make a bigger contribution whether that's through paying a little more through interest or whether that's through a graduate tax. Now the worrying today is of course we have Liberal Democrats who signed pledges that there should be no increase in fees and we have the Business Secretary writing round Liberal Democrat colleagues saying that that is about to be abandoned. And this is a growing pattern with the coalition. It seems that what the coalition means is everything that the party said before the election, they can quite simply tear up now. You know the Conservatives did it on child benefit last week and now it seems the Liberal Democrats are doing the same, and this is going to very much damage trust in politics, I think.

ANDREW MARR:

So if the proposal on the table involved some of the universities charging £10,000, £11,000, £12,000 - much higher than the figures that have been talked about before - would the Labour party be opposing that in parliament?

ANDY BURNHAM:

Well I think we would worry greatly, Andrew, about variable fees, so that we have a university system where the very best universities become the preserve of the elite and the privileged, and I don't want to see that. I came into politics to challenge a country really where life chances still are unfairly distributed around. It's still the case that the postcode of the bed you are born in pretty much determines what opportunities you will have in life, and I would be very, very worried indeed if we saw those opportunities receding further still from young people from ordinary backgrounds. I do not want to see a pure market in university education where the best universities can charge practically what they like. That will mean it's harder and harder for young people from ordinary backgrounds to get into those universities.

ANDREW MARR:

Now you've just made a moving plea for consistency among politicians. During the leadership campaign, you said that you thought the last Labour government had strayed far too far from the comprehensive ideal. What exactly did you mean by that?

ANDY BURNHAM:

I believe passionately in comprehensive education and comprehensive in all regards - in terms of intake, curriculum, and the opportunities that we give to young people. And I felt at times as though we looked as a government ashamed of comprehensives. We used language that I just didn't like - you know "bog standard comprehensives". I don't think we should ever talk in that way about our school system. I believe in aspiration for all, but particularly in raising the horizons, the hopes of the young people who have least, and the comprehensive system has done that down the decades. And what I want to do as Shadow Education Secretary is restate Labour's belief in the comprehensive ideal, but update it for modern times.

ANDREW MARR:

So you are against free schools?

ANDY BURNHAM:

Yes I am, and for this very clear reason, Andrew: because they would allow the strongest and the best to get even better at the expense of the rest. And I do not want to see an education system of that kind. It's essentially allowing those who are already outstanding to go off and gather up further resources and go off into the distance, leaving an undermining other school provision for other young people. And I just don't want to see a free market, a free for all in our school system.

ANDREW MARR:

And to be clear, you would also be against the academy system which the new government is pushing very hard, but which was originally started under Tony Blair?

ANDY BURNHAM:

Yes because we introduced academies in areas where all else had failed. So you take an inner city area where quite frankly there have been appallingly low standards for many years. We said well something different has to be done. So in those areas where the challenges were greatest, we said let's try something completely different, so we bring academy status to those who most need it. The alternative that's being put forward by the government is quite the opposite. It's basically allowing the best to go off and get even better and taking extra resources from the system. You need a strategy in education to improve education for all schools, and that is not what I'm hearing from the current Education Secretary. There's a worrying elitist strain in education thinking at the moment and it goes on from schools into universities, as we've been hearing before.

ANDREW MARR:

We've been told by Ed Miliband that this is not going to be a Labour opposition that simply opposes all cuts in the sort of traditional oppositionist way. So in your area, and more generally, where do you think some cuts should fall?

ANDY BURNHAM:

Well of course all areas of government are going to have to experience the pain. I mean we said that as a government - there would have to be cuts - and I made that very clear …

ANDREW MARR:

Give us some specifics.

ANDY BURNHAM:

… during the leadership campaign. But you remember, Andrew, I said as Shadow Health Secretary that it wasn't right for the government to give an increase to the health service at the expense of other public services. And the reason why I said that very difficult thing - because I was thinking about the schools budget. If we're going to give an increase to the health service right now, it means you have to give an even bigger cut to councils and to the school system, and I want a more balanced approach to public spending.

ANDREW MARR:

So you think actually you could, our government could take money out of the NHS budget now without damaging frontline care?

ANDY BURNHAM:

The argument Labour put forward before the election is that we should protect the frontline in our schools, in our National Health Service, and in our police service, and that means giving an inflationary increase to the health service but not giving it an increase above inflation which is what the government have promised in every year of this parliament. For me, that isn't a balanced approach to public spending. Public services are interdependent, they need each other, and I want to protect our schools in this period and that means taking tough decisions on the National Health Service. But I said that as Shadow Health Secretary, Andrew. It's not that it's convenient for me to say it now.

ANDREW MARR:

Sure. Let's talk about the shadow cabinet. Some big surprises. Alan Johnson, Shadow Chancellor - a surprise not least to Alan Johnson. What do you make of that?

ANDY BURNHAM:

Well I think Alan is a formidable intellect and politician and brings exactly the right experience that we need at the heart of our shadow cabinet. It's a good mix of the new generation and the nearly new generation, I think, and I would say what characterises us all is we're pretty down to earth people who know what people's lives are like and I think we're a strong team to take on a …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) You're a very young team, aren't you?

ANDY BURNHAM:

Yes we are, but we're a good team to take on what I would say is a cabinet of millionaires here who are already making cuts that quite frankly show they're not living in the real world and not understanding how their decisions will impact on ordinary families. And we saw that only this week with the child benefit shambles.

ANDREW MARR:

Is there a danger that you know you're too young, you're too inexperienced as a team really; that you don't have enough of the old salt still there - Alan Johnson apart?

ANDY BURNHAM:

I think, as I said, we've got the nearly new as well. We're a good mix actually. We've got experience at the top and politicians of the standing of Tessa Jowell also and Peter Hain who'll bring that experience to the table.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

ANDY BURNHAM:

But we've got the new blood in the shadow cabinet and I think Labour needed that, Andrew, if I'm honest. We needed a moment where Labour brought in some fresh thinking, some new ideas, and I'm delighted to see around that shadow cabinet table lots of colleagues who've got so much to give and really can revitalise and contribute to a resurgent Labour Party as we now hold this government to account. The country needs that.

ANDREW MARR:

Yeah.

ANDY BURNHAM:

They need this government now to be held to account by a confident Labour party, and that's what the country will have.

ANDREW MARR:

You went round with both Miliband brothers of course endlessly on platforms up and down the country throughout the summer and you heard them both say that they would serve under the other. Were you surprised when David Miliband decided not to?

ANDY BURNHAM:

I was surprised. I was hoping David would stay because you know David is an exceptional person and politician; he's got a huge amount to offer the Labour party. But obviously it's a matter of choice for David. You know see I actually saw David and Ed at close quarters and I couldn't mistake the love and the affection they have for each other, and you know all the way through the leadership contest I think all five of us actually - I believe - carried off a good … we're good ambassadors for the Labour party and we managed to keep it as a very fraternal contest.

ANDREW MARR:

It didn't look to me - and I think to many people - as if Ed Balls was terribly happy with the outcome of the division of jobs in the shadow cabinet, and some of the commentators are saying today that the bad blood between Ed Balls and Ed Miliband is going to bring back the same kind of rancour that the Blairites and Brownites had in the last government.

ANDY BURNHAM:

Well I don't accept that. It's always … You know perhaps the Right Wing Leader wants to insert divisions into the Labour party that don't exist. I think …

ANDREW MARR:

This is The Independent on Sunday.

ANDY BURNHAM:

I think the person who's been unhappy I think since Friday is probably Theresa May, I would have thought, Andrew, who's probably having a few sleepless nights at the thought of taking on Ed Balls over the dispatch box in the Commons. He and Ed are good friends, as are we all. As I said, we came through a challenging leadership contest where we really debated the rights and wrongs of our government and did some soul searching about where Labour had got it wrong and how we looked to the country. And I think we went through a difficult summer of soul searching but we stayed together, we stayed as good friends and now we're a strong and united team and the Tories have got a lot to be worried about, I think.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright. Andy Burnham from Manchester, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

ANDY BURNHAM:

Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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