On Wednesday Andy Burnham stood up in the commons and delivered what the Mirror described as a, “Passionate and visceral,” speech in response to the Hillsborough inquest verdict. He decried the way a public body had sought to defend itself rather than the people it was intended to serve. He denounced how the media was used to smear the victims and their families, convincing millions of their guilt. He condemned the absence of accountability and justice. He commended the relatives who had fought for so long against seemingly insurmountable odds and an overwhelming culture of disbelief and denial.
At least I thought it was Andy Burnham, but surely it couldn’t be, could it? Surely it couldn’t be the same Andy Burnham who was instrumental in the Labour Government’s attempts to cover up the Mid Staffs Hospital scandal? Surely this wasn’t the Health Secretary who refused to grant a full public inquiry into the events at Mid Staffs, preferring one held in secret to spare the Labour party’s blushes? Surely it’s not the same man accused of leaning on inspection officials to prevent problems coming to light? Surely not the same man who claimed Stafford was an isolated case and ignored the warning of Professor Sir Brian Jarman, former president of the BMA, about potentially similar mortality rates across the country? Surely it’s not the same Andy Burnham who refused to meet with the CureTheNHS victims’ group, preferring instead to call the police on a group of vulnerable, mostly elderly people suffering in silent agony the loss of their loved ones?
The reason Andy Burnham can stand up in parliament and speak with such authority about government cover ups is that he was at the centre of the biggest one this century. Mid Staffs is the 21st century’s Hillsborough – A public institution prepared to do anything to defend itself, twisted media coverage, relatives who faced a wall of indifference and disdain and who still wait for justice. Two working class tragedies with power and influence on one side and ordinary people on the other.
That a man so tainted by involvement in institutional wrongdoing should act as a spokesperson for the victims of Hillsborough is an insult to everyone who died that day in Sheffield.
It is the careerist opportunism we have come to expect from Burnham, attempting to rebuild his reputation by associating with such a noble, finally vindicated cause, deftly positioning himself to take over when Jeremy Corbyn finally realises he’s really just an old man who escaped from the day centre.
Should we really be surprised? The man will say or do anything for power, as evidenced by his derisory attempt to talk about immigration during the Labour leadership contest. I imagine him performing bushtucker trials on I’m a Labour MP, Get Me Out of Here! Ant & Dec would announce, “So Andy for 500 more votes in Leigh, which could offset boundary changes, you need to eat a kilo of Kangaroo shit.” He’d be finished before they started the clock. And he wouldn’t miss a crumb.
The most galling thing is the way he has tried to cast himself as a working class lad, a class comrade with the victims at Hillsborough. A life spent at Cambridge and Westminster does not a working class hero make and while his accent may deceive make no mistake – Burnham is no man of the people. He’s about as working class as a bottle of Pinot Grigio. The man has a thousand faces which he chooses to deploy depending on the necessity of the situation. Exigency rules Burnham, not principle, not belief, not social justice and certainly not class.
Many left wing commentators have sought to group Hillsborough together with the events of the Miner’s strike, the Wapping print dispute, the Stockport Messenger dispute and even the Jimmy Saville case to paint a picture of Thatcher’s Britain as a police state controlled by a powerful elite. They conveniently forget that under Labour we not only saw the Mid Staffs disaster but also the phone hacking scandal and the death of David Kelly. Those in power will always be tempted to abuse it, that is why they must be open to public scrutiny, and it is for this reason we must never allow Burnham to walk away from his shameful past.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty