Next Labour leader: ‘Death tax’ supporting Andy Burnham tops polls to take on Starmer

Keir Starmer ‘won’t be fined’ says Thornberry

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The Labour Party has become embroiled in a Partygate-style scandal of its own after leader Sir Keir Starmer was accused of breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules. An event in Durham in 2021 saw him having a drink and eating a takeaway curry at a gathering in Labour offices with party colleagues. Confident that he did not break any rules, Sir Keir has said that should the police issue him with a fixed penalty notice, he will step down as Labour leader.

He has been a fierce critic of Boris Johnson and the Partygate saga which saw the Prime Minister, along with his wife Carrie Johnson and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, fined for breaking lockdown rules.

An initial investigation found that Sir Keir had broken no rules, but Durham police have since opened another case related to the gathering.

Sir Keir’s argument that resigning would be the “right thing” has been viewed as a huge gamble, with Government ministers saying that if he does step down it does not mean Mr Johnson must follow suit.

Some of the Labour leader’s most senior members who were also present at the gathering have similarly pledged to resign if issued with fines, including deputy leader Angela Rayner.

The prospect has led many to ask who might step up to the mark and take the helm at the Labour Party.

While several candidates are in the running, including Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, and Wes Streeting, who has been doing the rounds on various media this week, the most obvious answer, according to the odds, is Andy Burnham.

The Manchester Mayor is a veteran of the party and has served in some of the most important roles in government.

In the Gordon Brown administration he worked a trio of roles: first as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury; then as the Culture Secretary; and later as the Health Secretary.

Well-versed in the machinations of Government, he is an obvious choice for Labour should its leader and deputy be forced into resigning.

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Mr Burnham even has experience in running for the party leadership, having twice failed two reach the mark.

He was first defeated in the second ballot in 2010 when Ed Miliband went on to take the position, and later came second to Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Burnham has since made clear that he was “there if the party needed” him.

However, there remains a crucial obstacle in the way of his takeover.

Because he has not had a seat in Westminster since 2017, under Labour rules, Mr Burnham cannot become Labour leader.

Anyone hoping to make a bid for the top job in the party must first be a member of the Houses of Commons, which Mr Burnham relinquished on becoming Manchester Mayor in 2017.

Express.co.uk previously spoke to Professor Richard Wyn Jones, a political scientist at Cardiff University, who described Mr Burnham’s position as both “strong and very weak”.

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[ANALYSIS] 

When Sir Keir’s approval ratings tanked in June last year — and Mr Burnham’s sky-rocketed — Prof Wyn Jones said of the Mayor’s position: “It’s strong in the sense he has a power base and a huge mandate within that power base, but it’s weak because he’s in the wrong place.

“You can’t lead the Labour Party from Manchester and not be in Parliament, not be in the House of Commons.

“And it’s not clear to me that he’s got a base there.”

According to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Burnham’s odds of becoming Labour leader sit at 3/1.

He is currently serving a second term as Manchester Mayor, and has insisted he will remain in post until May 2024.

Crucially, however, he has not ruled out running for the party leadership after that.

He has regularly taken aim at the Government and Mr Johnson specifically, accusing him of treating northerners as “second-class citizens” during the pandemic for slapping a regional lockdown on Manchester.

Opinion polls suggest that the public is mostly impressed by Mr Burnham.

But controversy resurfaced when he repeated his hopes and plan to tax estates as a fairer means of helping fund social care last year.

He wants to ask pensioners to hand over ten percent of their estate, a strategy he said was more in line with how the country funds the NHS: everyone contributes, and everyone benefits.

When asked about this, which has been described as the “death tax”, Mr Burnham told the Today programme: “I stand by it, I think it is a much fairer way to do this.

“I would ask all pensioners to make a contribution, so ten percent of their estate.

“That would be to introduce the NHS principle to social care because everybody would be required to contribute and everyone would benefit.

“No one would have the threat of catastrophic costs hanging over them.”

While speculation is rife, the Labour Party has said it is confident that it has proof that no one, including Sir Keir, broke lockdown rules in Durham.

A report in The Guardian stated that the party has compiled time-stamped logs from messaging chat apps, documents and video edits showing they carried on working until 1am — all after the takeaway was delivered.

It added that detectives investigating the alleged breach of lockdown rules are considering interviewing the Labour leader face to face.

A Labour source told the publication: “It added that detectives investigating the alleged breach of lockdown rules are considering interviewing the Labour leader face to face.”

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