As the contest to secure the nomination to be Labour candidate for the new elected office of Greater Manchester Mayor goes down to the wire, the local party establishment has entered a state of blind panic, as all efforts to stop the progress of Leigh MP Andy Burnham appear to have failed. Moreover, the local press, despite the entreaties of that establishment, has declined attempts to bring it into play.
While the Observer has done an in-depth profile of Burnham, accompanying him on the campaign trail in Stockport, quizzing him about his reasoning for joining the campaign for the Labour Mayoral nomination after Tony Lloyd and Ivan Lewis had already declared, and asking him why he stayed put in the Shadow Cabinet when so many of his colleagues decided they had had enough of Jeremy Corbyn and walked out, his two opponents are having difficulty getting themselves heard. And they are not happy about it.
And what made Lloyd and Lewis yet less happy was the news that two recent surveys of Labour members - the electorate of around 11,400 who will decide the nominee - had Burnham in the lead. The polls had been carried out by two of the three campaigns, although which ones has not been told. The sample sizes were in the thousands, which means they should be an accurate guide to the actual result.
One of the two polls gave Burnham 55% of the vote, against 33% for Lloyd and just 12% for Lewis. The other gave Burnham 21.7% of committed voters, with Lewis second this time on 20.6% and Lloyd on 20.1%. The news has caused the Lloyd and Lewis campaigns to come together in order to try and stop the challenger.
But here a problem has entered. My information is that several local council leaders, fearing they would see an erosion in their power bases if Burnham were elected, have tried to feed local media the idea that they could not work with him. The Manchester Evening News, however, which they need to get on board, will not play ball.
The MEN has declined to run the story, deciding neither to give Tony Lloyd and Ivan Lewis’ supporters the oxygen of publicity for their claims that Burnham would be divisive, nor to call them out for their underhand shit-stirring. Thus it is down to Labour members, and here the Lloyd and Lewis campaigns are realising their mistakes - but maybe too late.
Andy Burnham has been doing what he knows best - going and making his pitch to members directly, meeting groups at local Labour clubs, in pubs, clubs, cafes, at workplaces, anywhere where he can give them his vision, and they can tell him what they expect of their Mayor, especially when it comes to devolving health care provision to the Mayoralty, something not even Sadiq Khan in London is doing.
Tony Lloyd is the face of the Old Labour establishment in Manchester. Ivan Lewis represents the unreconstructed Blairites. They both detest Burnham with a passion. But the members aren’t voting on their ability to do hatred. So right now they are losing this particular battle.
Voting closes on Friday. The Labour Mayoral nominee is announced the next Tuesday.