09/08/2016 12:25 BST | Updated 09/08/2016 12:51 BST

Andy Burnham Refuses To Back Jeremy Corbyn Or Owen Smith For Leader

'How long will Manchester have to spend building a fence big enough for him to sit on?'

LEON NEAL via Getty Images
Andy Burnham said he would be 'remaining neutral' in the leadership race

Andy Burnham today refused to endorse either of the two candidates running for Labour leader.

The Leigh MP fudged calls to back either Jeremy Corbyn or Owen Smith for the leadership at the announcement of his nomination as Labour’s candidate for Manchester mayor

Burnham said instead that these were “difficult times for our party” and said rather than throwing his weight behind either MP he would be “remaining neutral in the leadership race”.

But the comment failed to wash with Michael Dugher, Burnham’s campaign manager during his own bid for the leadership last year.

Burnham’s stance did not prompt much surprise from Twitter users either, some of whom mocked him for the “bold” decision.

One even appeared to reference a previous controversial abstention by Burnham on the government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill last July, which reduced the household welfare cap, abolished legally binding child poverty targets and cut housing benefit for young people.

Burnham has previously been criticised by pundits for “fence-sitting”, most notably after his decision to remain in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet rather than involve himself in the coup by MPs.

The Leigh MP has previously defended himself on the issue, saying in July of the Labour coup that he had been “highly consistent” in not pulling ranks with several Labour leaders during his long tenure in government and the shadow cabinet.

“The position I’ve taken is highly consistent with what I’ve always done, in that if you remember in 2006, I think it was there was a kind of effort to remove Tony Blair. When people asked me to take part in that, I didn’t,” he said.

“In 2009, my good friend James Prunell resigned on a local election night [and called upon prime minister Gordon Brown to do the dame], and I was asked to take part in that, and I didn’t.

“I’m pretty consistent in the way that I do these things. I personally fear that there’s a problem where MPs look like they’re trying to dictate an outcome the party is not on board with.”

Burnham won 51% of the vote in the race to become Labour’s candidate for mayor of Manchester. 

The Merseyside-born MP launched his campaign in July and has vowed to reverse the Conservative “crisis” gripping the city’s NHS.

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