Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham needs a holiday. Far be it from me to defend the 34 days that remain until the House sits again, but I can’t begrudge this MP an extended break.
As he toured the television studios yesterday, deep, dark bags chiselled under his weary eyes, Burnham had the semblance of a man who had not slept for weeks. His voice strained; a higher, almost frantic pitch compared to his usual soft tone. If he looked like hadn’t slept for weeks, years must have passed since he last cracked a smile.
Burnham couldn’t find any respite over the weekend either. Unable to enjoy a Saturday morning lie-in, he tweeted almost pleadingly:
Despite media silence, people have twigged Tory #NHS strategy: run it down, undermine public confidence, propose privatisation as answer.
— Andy Burnham (@andyburnhammp) July 27, 2013
The attack line was weak – I doubt even Burnham genuinely believes the Tories want to run down the National Health Service as an excuse for privatisation. Though, to be honest, that’s not really the point.
Just what is Burnham doing tweeting tame spin at breakfast on a Saturday morning? He has a team of political advisers, press officers and bag-carriers for that, and in any case, no one but condemned obsessives are checking Twitter at that time. Burnham knows this, yet while he should be playing with his kids or spending time with his wife, he can’t seem to tear himself away.
There can only really be three reasons for his political insomnia.
One, which he would never admit, is that the Tories’ attacks are wearing him down. The night before Burnham’s Keogh Report debate with Jeremy Hunt two weeks ago, Tory MPs stayed up late at a meeting with the Secretary of State and his Parliamentary Private Secretary, Rob Wilson, plotting how to end his career.
Attendees at that meeting were convinced that Burnham wouldn’t survive the week. In the end, Hunt misfired and Burnham survived, though in many ways the damage was done. The Member for Leigh hasn’t been the same since.
His treatment at the hands of those opposite him has been bad enough, yet even Burnham’s allies have their knives out. Following a tantalising nugget of gossip in Black Dog, rumours swirl that Ed Miliband is planning on sacking Burnham and replacing him with Chuka Umunna. The health brief is one that would suit Labour’s two-faced Shadow Business Secretary perfectly.
If it is neither Tory hostility nor Labour mutiny that is getting him down, then no explanation remains but guilt. For political reasons, Burnham cannot show remorse for the needless deaths that happened on his watch. For the catastrophic failings of hospitals across Britain while he was in charge. No justice for the 13,000 can be delivered by Burnham, even if he so desired it.
Instead he has to return fire, deny everything and sink further into a dishonesty that must be almost impossible to tolerate. As a former Health Secretary Burnham will know the devastating shortcomings of the NHS better than just about anyone; as a Labour Shadow Health Secretary he has no choice but to tell us it is the ‘Envy of the World’, the auntie everybody can rely on.I don’t know about him, but my auntie doesn’t bring me water served in a vase.
Whatever the reason, Andy Burnham could do worse than step away from the keyboard and take a rest from the glare of the cameras. He has survived the summer. If he doesn’t take the chance to regroup, the autumn may not be so forgiving.
Alex Wickham is the Political Editor for TrendingCentral.com and tweets at @WikiGuido
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