In an exclusive interview, he hinted he was disappointed to be speaking from the fringes, suggesting it was important for Labour to showcase the work of its Mayors.
Mr Burnham, tipped by many as a future party leader, also told how he’d like to see the party use cash for tax cuts to pay for a one year public sector pay deal.
He described Friday’s budget as “the most flagrant act of vandalism on the social cohesion of our country” adding the Government had “basically drawn battle lines with ordinary working people of the country.”
He also said he disagreed with the Government forcing unions to ballot members on pay offers.
Mr Burnham also explained how he believed it was important for the Labour Conference to kick-off with God Save The King – a move which Jeremy Corbyn has criticised.
And, when asked if he thought the next Labour leader had to be a woman, he said: “no”.
In a wide ranging exclusive interview with Gloria De Piero in Liverpool today (Sunday), Mr Burnham reflected on the decision for him to be speaking away from the main hall saying: “I don’t make decisions, and there’s pressure on the conference timetable, but I do think where you’ve got Labour mayors making real positive changes, such as putting a cap on bus fares, which we’ve done now and people are benefitting from that, let’s showcase that. Steve Rotheram is speaking which is great and rightly so. I do think it’s important for Labour to say this movement of mayors we’ve got and the North getting a strong voice is something we’re right behind. I’ll still be pushing them to say look, come on. Let’s say that a bit more.”
On whether the next Labour Prime Minister needs to be a woman, Mr Burnham said: “I would love to see a woman leader of the Labour Party and I’m sure I will. I’m sure it’s going to happen soon. And in an ideal world, yes, it would be but I do think we’ve got to be careful. It’s nothing to do with me, by the way, I’m doing what I’m doing in Greater Manchester. This is just kind of an argument about what’s right and proper but it has to be the best person for the job, doesn’t it? It’s got to be because I think sometimes Labour is perceived by people as kind of box-ticking, which will also undermine the person in that role. It’s got to be the right person. I’d say you do everything possible to support that happening, because obviously, it’s overdue, isn’t it? And we’d all love to see it.”
Asked about his stance on tax, Mr Burnham said: “It’s not about a tax increase. I’d say just leave things where they are because we’re going to have to help the NHS in this period that we’re in and we’re going to have to find money for nurses for their pay. There’s obviously pressure across the public sector, we’re going to have to keep public services running through this really difficult time. So I’m not saying increase taxes, but I’m just saying use that money to keep public services running, to give targeted help to people whose heads will really be dipping beneath the water this winter with all of the pressures on people. That’s what I would do. I’m not saying put taxes up on ordinary people. I’m simply saying use the money instead, to keep things going because I think it is that serious. This is a very big crisis, the scale of which we’ve not seen before.”
Mr Bunrham added he wouldn’t have cut taxes at this time of the year because “it doesn’t help people this winter anyway.”
He said: “The effect is only felt from April next year when obviously, the challenge is right here right now. We did a survey with our disabled people’s panel last week. It found that about 60% of disabled people in Greater Manchester have already cooked what they’re eating. It was quite scary, to be honest with you, you know, I hear all the time that people are living just using the microwave. This is really dangerous. I think we’re heading into a mental health crisis as well this winter and I would use the money to put it into mental health to ensure nurses have a fair pay deal and to shore up the NHS. That would be my priority.
“Public sector pay should be one priority. Look at firefighters, for instance, I met with Greater Manchester firefighters and other neighbouring brigades on Friday. They have had a 5% cut to their pay in real terms over the last decade, so they’re not in a position where they’ve been keeping pace with the cost of living.
“How can you go out to work and protect other people’s homes If you’re worried about what’s going on in your own home? It’s not about just giving the unions what they want. This is beyond that. These are people who will not be able to make things work this winter. And there has to be a pay arrangement. even if it’s a one-year deal, just to help them make it work this winter. I don’t think we’ve seen yet a serious response from the government to what’s ahead of us.”
“The Government is just constantly trying to make it harder and harder for working people to get organised and to stand up for themselves. And why should this narrative be kind of set that this is wrong? I think Friday was the most flagrant act of vandalism on the social cohesion of our country. Basically, they’ve drawn battle lines with ordinary working people of the country.”
Mr Burnham said the government were “constantly putting hurdles” down for trade unions to deal with.
He added: “They’re trying to make it look like ‘oh, it’s just a point of fairness and principle’. But the effect of it is obviously to load costs on the trade unions and to make it harder and harder for them to take any kind of action, that’s what they’re doing. There’s no need to change that at this moment in time, it is not a priority. Their picking fights with the unions. I think we’ve got to move beyond this.
“We’ve got divisiveness in politics that isn’t helping the country work. It’s not helping the millions of people who rely on public services for the government to pick fights with the unions rather than get around the table with them and sort things out. That’s what they should be doing actually sitting around the table. Forget arguing about all of these things. Sit around the table, and come up with a one-year pay deal that gets everybody safely through the winter. That is what they should be doing. Instead, they are picking a fight, they’re trying to kind of wind everybody up above.
“Remember 2020, only two years ago, they were standing outside Downing Street and clapping for them, I mean, what happened? What’s changed to create this situation now where they’re kind of demonising public sector workers when in the pandemic, they were kind of rightly clapping for them? But it just shows you the hollowness of modern politics, they did that two years ago, and now they’re kind of trying to scapegoat them and blame them. It’s just, it’s just not good at all.”
Speaking on why it is important to him to start the conference by singing God Save The King, Mr Burnham argued: “We’ve been through the biggest sort of national moment of our lives and the Queen actually did so much to build national unity. She was there for everyone, wasn’t she? All through our lives she worked hard, I think, making sure that all communities and all people felt heard and seen, and she visited all places. And she did that for all of that time. 70 years. And I think as we go through this period of change, I think it’s right for the main political parties to show that they recognize that and show support for Kings Charles. I think that’s a right and proper thing for a party that seeks to be the next government soon to do and I think for the first time since we left government, I’m going to a Labour conference where I think it’s odd that we will have a Labour Government between one and two years. And I think in those circumstances, I think it’s right for that government to be clear about running the country in the right way, respecting the late queen but also kind of showing support for King Charles.”