Richard Burgon Says Jeremy Corbyn Could 'Come Back'

Deputy hopeful warns would-be Labour leaders they will not have a mandate to tear up the 2019 manifesto.
Richard Burgon during the deputy Labour leadership hustings at the ACC Liverpool.
Richard Burgon during the deputy Labour leadership hustings at the ACC Liverpool.
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Richard Burgon is best known for an unwavering loyalty to his boss, Jeremy Corbyn.

But the Yorkshire MP, who is among five standing to be Labour’s next deputy leader, is also devoted to another high-profile socialist - Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa.

“He correctly said at a Leeds United press conference - and I really don’t think the Yorkshire Evening Post knew how to take it - that the people of Chile have shown the way to the rest of humanity in their opposition to neoliberalism,” the shadow justice secretary tells HuffPost UK, unable to resist cracking up with laughter.

“The response was: oh yeah, but why’s Patrick Bamford not scoring goals?”

The 39-year-old is cautiously optimistic his beloved team will be promoted to the premier league in second place, much as he might hope he can clinch the deputy leadership with second preference votes, should hot favourite Angela Rayner fail to clean up in the first round.

Burgon refuses to accept that Labour’s radical nationalisation agenda handed Boris Johnson’s Conservatives an 80-seat majority, despite many voters being sceptical the country could afford the full slate of rail, mail and utilities being brought back into public ownership.

Should he win, the party’s new leader - Keir Starmer is the current favourite though Burgon backs Rebecca Long-Bailey - will have to watch their step.

“I will be laser focused on getting them into No. 10,” he says. “But no leader, in my view, has the mandate to throw a single policy from the 2019 manifesto in the dustbin without the express permission of Labour members, despite what some candidates for leadership say.”

His comments in particular are aimed at Wigan MP Lisa Nandy, who during a debate this week said Labour cannot promise to “nationalise everything”, adding: “We have no idea how we would do it.”

Burgon adds: “It’s not because of those policies that we lost, it is because it became the Brexit election that Boris Johnson wanted.”

He adds of Nandy: “When she made those comments, it was like going back in a time machines to the stale, failed social democracy of the past.

“I am disturbed at the way Lisa Nandy seems to criticise socialist policies in the manifesto and say things weren’t fully costed when they were.”

Richard Burgon MP addresses the protest on January 4, 2020
Richard Burgon MP addresses the protest on January 4, 2020
Guy Smallman via Getty Images

Burgon would broadly agree with new Labour MP Zarah Sultana, who claimed in the Commons that the country has endured “40 years of Thatcherism”, hitting out at Tony Blair’s New Labour government.

“I think that parameters of Thatcherism and neoliberalism weren’t fundamentally challenged since 1979,” he says.

“So the 1997 to 2010 Labour government did some fantastic things but it didn’t fundamentally alter the power structures of the economy, or the power structures in society in a way to dismantle neoliberalism, and that’s not to undermine the fantastic things that the government did, from the minimum wage to extra investment in schools and hospitals.”

He argues that complacency about hanging on to Scotland and the party’s so-called ‘red wall’ heartlands in the north and midlands began under Blair.

Burgon says: “Obviously it was 2015 when we were crushed in Scotland, but even that was a crisis many years in the making.

“I remember hearing people during Blair and Brown’s leadership, saying, ’oh don’t worry about Labour in Scotland they’ve got nowhere else to go.”

On calls for a second Scottish independence referendum, he adds: “I think that if the people of Scotland want an independence referendum, then Westminster shouldn’t seek to block it.

“However, my personal opinion is if there is a second referendum I myself would argue against the advisability of independence for Scotland.”

“If he was shadow foreign secretary, that would be ideal”

- Richard Burgon suggests Jeremy Corbyn deserves a frontbench role

Burgon says Labour’s decision to back a second Brexit referendum lost Corbyn the election.

“Keir was the architect of our move towards a more ‘Remainy’ position,” says Burgon. “Now, everyone knows that - that’s just a fact.”

He believes, however, that all should bear responsibility.

Burgon also refuses to criticise Corbyn’s strategic communications director Seumas Milne. Or his chief-of-staff turned digital campaigns chief Karie Murphy who faces a string of bullying allegations, which she denies.

“They are both great people,” he says. “I think they both have done a good job. And the both managed to work for the party under incredible pressure.”

He adds it is for the next leader to decide whether the two stay in post, and adds: “I will defend both Karie and Seumas as decent people who throughout Jeremy’s leadership worked as hard as they could for the movement and worked as hard as they could they could to get a Labour government. I do think that attacking staff is not something I agree with.”

Who is Richard Burgon?

Richard Burgon’s favourite book is J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings.

He says he has read it “maybe 15-times” after first encountering the book when he was 12-years-old. “It’s like a book I will read every few years because having a bit of escapism is important,” he says.

His top three favourite films are Terminator 2, Psycho and Remains Of The Day, and his favourite song is Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Iron Maiden.

Asked about MPs from different parties, he cites Caroline Lucas as “very good on green issues” and says Westminster needs “more conviction politicians” like the SNP’s Mhairi Black.

He says: “Mhairi Black has been good at getting people interested in politics she clearly says what she thinks that’s important.”

One issues that has repeatedly dogged the Labour Party has been Corbyn’s failure to handle anti-Semitism, with Burgon getting into hot water over previous comments about Zionism.

Ex-Labour MP Ruth Smeeth is among those who has accused leadership and deputy leadership candidates of failing to act.

Burgon insists Smeeth’s comments were not directed at him and that Labour is “not a racist party”.

“If Jeremy Corbyn had been elected PM, he would have been the most anti-racist PM in our history,” he says.

Burgon sees the former leader as having a “valuable role” to play in Labour’s future, perhaps even on the frontbench.

“If he was shadow foreign secretary, that would be ideal,” he says.

“He is still young, of course, because [left wing US senator] Bernie Sanders is nearly 10 years older. Who knows, he could come back.”

It’s not clear that Corbyn backs Burgon’s leadership bid but he calls him “a friend and a comrade”.

“I’ve never met a more principled, less egotistical person than Jeremy Corbyn and plenty of his critics are not fit to lace his boots,” he says.

As secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, set up in 1982 by Dennis Skinner and his hero Tony Benn, Burgon is undisputedly the most left-wing candidate for the party’s second-in-command.

“Angela isn’t from the same part of the party that I am,” he says, stressing he nonetheless respects the shadow education secretary. “That’s not criticism, it’s just a fact.”

He admits, however, that he faces an uphill struggle to win.

“One of the things to overcome is the perception it’s a foregone conclusion that Angela will win just because she’s got a lion’s share of CLP nominations,” he says.

“Last time I looked she had about 300, which is very impressive, but I’ve got 70 and 70 is not bad at all.”

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn points his fingers at the end of an eve of poll rally in London, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn points his fingers at the end of an eve of poll rally in London, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019.

Some of Burgon’s policies have been eye-catching, to say the least.

The Leeds East MP, who is a qualified solicitor, supports reforming the party’s constitution so Corbyn’s public ownership aims are hardwired into Labour’s DNA and open selections, which would see MPs face regular battles to remain the Labour candidate.

His so-called “peace plan” would also see Labour members balloted over military action, unless it had UN backing or was a genuine national emergency, though he insists this policy does not force MPs to vote against it.

“I’m not a pacifist,” he says. “Going back into the dim and distant periods of time, the Spanish Civil War was a time when I think military action was needed in support for the socialist Spanish government. And obviously, defeating fascism, along with our allies was a huge contribution to humanity in the Second World War.

“This policy by the way arises from my experiences as a young labour member marching against the policy my own labour Prime Minister at the time Tony Blair.

“Never again should Labour members have to protest, not in our name against their own party.

“If Labour MPs are still determined to vote to bomb people in other countries, there would be nothing constitutional stopping them doing that. But they would know that they go into that voting lobby without the support of the Labour Party.”

Born in Leeds, his family supported striking miners during Margaret Thatcher’s reign in the 1980s, but it was during his time studying English at Cambridge University that Burgon became involved in politics

“I was meeting people at Cambridge, who were no cleverer than the people I went to school with school in Leeds, but would end up ruling society through their connections and the confidence that their background gave them,” he says.

“Some of the kind of people I met most people didn’t think existed apart from in a Harry Enfield sketch - you know Tim ‘nice but dim’ - but these people would end up being very powerful. Why should we leave it to them to run the show?”

Burgon backs abolishing private schools - “they are engines of social inequality” - and while he insists “there was no clash” with Rayner over Labour’s failure to adopt the policy, he insists that if party members back a policy it should be in the manifesto.

Burgon also faces a lot of criticism and abuse, which he puts down to his left-wing outlook.

It doesn’t get to him too much. Burgon, who if he wins the deputy leadership will celebrate with a non-alcoholic beer and a vegan burger, thinks some of it is “quite witty”.

“If people don’t want to carry on brightening up my evening, by putting amusing memes about me or some witty wordplay, then fine, it actually sometimes it gives me a lift,” he says.

“Generally, it doesn’t bother me. I’m not a woman. I’m not black. I’m not gay. So I don’t receive that kind of discrimination abuse that some of my colleagues, unfortunately, do.

“I think some abusive tweets to me, well .... people should get out more and it’s water off a duck’s back.”

He adds that he will spend his energy fighting Boris Johnson.

“One of the reasons I don’t respect Boris Johnson is, quite apart from his odious views, I don’t really know what he believes in apart from himself.

“So, whereas even Tony Benn had some kind of grudging respect for Thatcher, because she was clear in what she believed in, I don’t even have any grudging respect for Boris Johnson because all I think he believes in is himself.”

A lack of belief is not an accusation anyone would throw at Burgon.


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