POLITICS

Andy Burnham Calls On Labour To 'Up Its Game', Says Party 'Galvanised' By Leadership Talk

04/12/2014 21:50 GMT | Updated 04/12/2014 22:59 GMT

Labour's top team needs to "up our game", Andy Burnham admitted but insisted internal rumblings over Ed Miliband's leadership had "galvanised" the party as the general election nears. The shadow health secretary said while it would be "odd" for him to rule out another tilt at the top job, reports that he had actively discussed Mr Miliband's departure during last month's turbulence were a "pure fabrication".

"Division is never helpful, is it? We're in that pre-election period where everyone is on a heightened state of awareness," he told Total Politics magazine. It's never good, but it has galvanised people. The mood of the party is very resolute. People are gearing up now to fight the election.

"These things happen from time to time, but fundamentally we are united and in a pretty strong place. That's what matters. The mood of 99% of the Parliamentary Labour Party is very united and very positive."

He said of his shadow cabinet colleagues: "I think the time has come for us all to raise our game and support him. I don't make this an issue of the leader, I make this an issue of the team. We all have to really up our game, do more to get heard, get our messages sharper, get them over. I see it that way. I see it as an obligation. We're in the battle now and it's about fighting every single day."

Asked if he could rule out continued ambitions to lead the party, he said: "It would be odd for me to say that. No one knows. I'm doing the job I love. I'm proud to do it for Ed. It's all I'm focused on. I can't say what life will throw up in the future, but I'm focused on helping Ed, making Ed the next prime minster and getting back in."

Mr Burnham also said he was unashamed to want the state to act as a "nanny" to "people who aren't making their own choices" - suggesting he would lead a moral crusade to protect children from the risks of obesity if Labour win back power.

"Children don't make their own choices. They don't choose what food is put down in front of them. They can't prevent being in a smoky car. They can't organise their own day to make sure they do enough physical activity," he said. "I don't think as a society we are doing anywhere near enough to give all children a healthy start in life. And we can act. For me it is becoming quite a moral issue, actually.

"The state should be a nanny to people who aren't making their own choices and it should be tough in terms of not accepting second best or suboptimal environments for children. So yeah, mandatory maximum levels of fat, salt and sugar in children's food. I am prepared to go out there and sell that policy to the public, even if some people see that as quite a big departure from where food policy has been.

"What I am trying to avoid is the kind of charge that has been levelled at people which is 'oh you have just come in to regulate everything, and you're cutting the enjoyment out of everything'. But I am clear that the status quo is unacceptable in terms of obesity and all of those other trends we are seeing, so something has to change, something has to give."

He also indicated that plain packaging for cigarettes would be high on his agenda. "When I was health secretary, it was always put to me that that was the measure the industry most fears. And for me, you always do what they most fear."