Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham is suffering from political insomnia. It’s time for a break…

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:

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 and tweets at @WikiGuido

About Alex Wickham

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Alex Wickham is a reporter at the Guido Fawkes blog, as well as contributor to The Sun on Sunday. He is the political editor of

  • Selohesra

    I doubt Burnham actually does his own Tweets – he’ll have some lackey for that. But I think his main problem is simply that he is just not very bright.

  • Jock

    The gall of Burnham is remarkable, even by the standards to which we have become accustomed from our politicians.
    Anybody who has read “How We Treat the Sick: Neglect and Abuse in Our Health Service” by Michael Mandelstam – will have been shocked and sickened by the experience and will judge for themselves the impact on the NHS of Labour’s years in power and by how they conspired to keep the reality from us.
    It should be required reading for all politicians and political journalists – and by all GPs. Labour are by not the only architects of the current situation but they made a hugely damaging contribution and to paint the Tories as the villains and Labour as the heroes and guardians – rank hypocrisy of the highest order. Sickening and shameful.

  • Aaron D Highside

    Manslaughter of thousands by neglect. Surely not serious enough for ANY politician to resign, just as long as the gravy train keeps rolling.

  • Jingleballix

    …… should be GUILT……….though in my view his predecessors – Johnson, Hewitt and Reid are far more culpable.

    New Labour poison lies dormant for years – but poison is poison, it is always pernicious.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Longing to see the back of this one from politics even if it does mean Umunna takes his place.

  • Penfold

    Burnham represents the unacceptable face of politics and politicians.
    As minister he was corporately responsible for the actions of his employees, albeit most of the public sector feel that they have some sort of public indemnity, and should acknowledge that. But, no-one in this day and age has any real moral or ethical standards, a result of making politics a career path, and allowing people to enter, without any outside management experience. The result is politicians who will not exercise any sort of ethical stance.
    Burnham is human, and perhaps he is feeling guilt, hence his rather strained visage.
    And of course, we have the problem that Labour will not admit to any errors and mistakes on their watch, which means cover-ups prevail and any admission of guilt denied to the last breath.
    Perhaps we might give Burnham the benefit of the doubt?, and suggest that he is acting under duress of the Shadow Cabinet/Unions not to admit to mistakes, though given some of his recent rhetoric, perhaps I’m being far too generous.

  • Shazza

    Umunna, surely that Bollinger Socialist has never put a foot into a NHS hospital? Mixing with the hoi polloi?

  • milliboot

    Burnham would not hesitate to stick the knife in if it had been a Conservative Government in power when Stafford happened, so i have no sympathy with him at all.

  • Keith D

    He needs a holiday alright.At Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

  • Shazza

    Again, repeat after me – LABOUR – THE PARTY OF MASS DESTRUCTION.

  • John Smith

    He is holed below the waterline
    If he had the guts to apologise for his poor leadership of the NHS, over MidStaffs , CQC & Morecambe he MIGHT have survived. He will NOT be missed

  • Normandee

    Patients are merely a hindrance to the union members going about their daily business of earning a wage, especially those whose job it is is to do nothing else but union business at our expense. Burnham is a union supported man, in a union supported political party headed by a man voted in by union votes, anything else is irrelevant.

  • Chukka the Great

    The “hoi” is already the article so there is actually no need for the “the”. So it would actually be “mixing with hoi polloi”, the spelling of those words to one side. Did I also mention that I think that a couple of years in employment law qualifies me to be the next health secretary? Thanks. Vote Chukka.