Even though he’s already put his foot in it enough to amuse us all, Andy Burnham wishing to become mayor of Manchester in the first place is interesting in and of itself. He’s shadow home secretary for a start, albeit within an opposition that is going nowhere fast. But in the wake of Sadiq Khan becoming mayor of London, I can see many other MPs wishing to flee the Commons to become mayors as well. It could well become a trend, particularly within the Labour Party due to the twin factors of Corbyn’s unlikelihood of gaining a parliamentary majority combined with Labour’s strength in urban areas across the country.
I’ve noted what a bad job being an MP is before, but now more than ever it is an increasingly poor place to try and make your mark in British politics, weirdly enough. Particularly if you aren’t a Tory. Being mayor meanwhile allows you to acquire a personal mandate to govern that you never get as an MP, even if you become prime minister. Look at the way Khan has used it to position himself already. He can rightly say that 57% of Londoners, across the entire political spectrum, voted for him. Meanwhile, Corbyn has a huge mandate from Labour members – but they only represent a small slice of a particular niche in society.
Sadiq also gets to be outside of the shadow cabinet – thus not be tainted with that come the end of the Corbyn era – while still being very visible. Burnham, no doubt, thought he’d like a bit of that for himself. I don’t think anyone can blame him.
Being a mayor allows you also to define yourself outside of the Commons while still being very much a politician. David Miliband left British politics altogether – he left Britain altogether – in order to reinvent himself. These days, he might have thought to become a mayor somewhere. It wasn’t really thought of as an option a few years ago when David made his move, but these days it is looking like an increasingly attractive manoeuvre.
This is good for local politics but bad for national politics. If everyone in centre-left politics thinks becoming an MP is a waste of time, the House will be increasingly dominated by the Right. And while on a personal level I can see the attraction of becoming a mayor, the sad truth is the UK remains an incredibly centralised country. The House of Commons still rules the roost – even if, paradoxically, it isn’t a great place for politicians to try and get into these days. We might look back on the move of Andy Burham from shadow home secretary to mayor of Manchester as very bad thing for centre-left politics, and indeed plural politics, in years to come.