Labour leader hopeful Andy Burnham has slammed David Cameron after the prime minister claimed sections of the Muslim community were “quietly condoning” extremism.
Burnham, who just a few weeks ago was the favourite to lead the party but has since been overtaken by Jeremy Corbyn, told Eastern Eye in an exclusive interview, the “irresponsible” remark further fuelled Islamaphobia.
The 45-year-old said he was “quite critical” of a range of comments the prime minister had made about the Muslim community relating to radicalisation when he claimed they were “quietly condoning” extremism.
“That was irresponsible and quite frankly a disgraceful thing for a British prime minister to say. In one sentence he alienated an entire community that was working hard to deal with a very small percentage of young people often at risk of extremism and radicalisation,” Burnham said.
“He burnt the bridge if you like and further fueled the divide that some are seeking to foster. That was as appalling act of irresponsibility on behalf of David Cameron and it further fuels Islamaphobia. That’s a very worrying thing for a prime minister to have done.”
The shadow health secretary was speaking after a Labour leadership debate, organised by Patchwork Foundation and Operation Black Vote, which aims to engage minority communities in politics.
Following the event at the KPMG office in Canary Wharf last Thursday (30), Burnham expressed concern about popular left-winger Corbyn taking the reigns as the head of the party which suffered a catastrophic defeat in the May election.
“It would be the wrong choice for the Labour party”, he said. “Jeremy’s added something to the race-lifting the debate, putting some bigger ideas on the table, but let’s be clear, it would be the wrong choice for the Labour party to jump to the left.”
Corbyn, who has been an MP since 1983, outlined plans this week to end “the years of political and economic austerity” to help create a high-skilled workforce in Britain.
Corbyn has grown in popularity during the contest, which has alarmed some senior levels of the party who fear his election would result in at least a further decade of Tory government.
“He represents a break from a style of politics that the public have got fed up with – overly-scripted soundbite- based politics often dealing in quite small gimmicky policies but not offering big, inspiring ideas,” Burnham said.
“I understand why he’s connecting with people but I don’t believe the package he’s offering is an electable proposition. It would cost a lot of money for a start and Labour needs economic credibility at the heart of everything it does. We are not going to get out of first base until we have got that.
“If we were to go that way, Labour would be taking the wrong turn at the cross-roads and would be out of power for a very long time.” Corbyn has already received endorsement from two of Britain’s largest trade unions which Burnham was hoping to secure.
This is his second shot at running for leadership following his unsuccessful bid to replace Gordon Brown five years ago. The Leigh MP is keen for Labour to win back the Asian vote which migrated towards the Tories in May.
“We hadn’t done enough to reach out to the Asian community. We didn’t have a pro-business message for many people in the Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities who run small businesses. They were thinking: ‘Well hang on, are they for us?’,” Burnham said.
“There were concerns on foreign policy; there’s been a real set of reasons (why we lost their vote). If we are to reach out we have to address those issues.
“We have to start listening and support people who are working hard to make ends meet. We need to have much more bold policies around business rates – cutting them, supporting smaller businesses.”
He added: “We need to have better representation from Asian communities than we’ve achieved in recent times, so I’ve put forward a proposal for balanced shortlists in areas where constituencies have 50 per cent or more people who are from minority communities with 50/50 BME shortlists.”
The would-be leader, who graduated with a degree in English from Cambridge University after studying at a local comprehensive school, is eager to prove that he is a working-class man who is far removed from the Westminster bubble.
He is battling against 66-year-old Corbyn, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall in the hope of gaining leadership of the party following Ed Miliband’s resignation in May.
With less than a week to go until ballot papers go out, he is travelling the length of the country to convince voters he is the man to change Labour’s fate.
However, recent polls have placed him in third place behind Cooper and Corbyn.
The father-of-three insisted that the party was still committed to implementing the cross-government race equality strategy which was outlined in Labour’s BME manifesto, aimed at minority communities ahead of the general election.
“There are so many areas of our public life where there are ingrained issues, such as under performance in the education system with young men from a black background. Then there are health issues related to the Asian community such as diabetes. There are much higher incidents of ill mental health among some parts of the BME community.
“You need to have a focus on those things across government if you are to make a change because they don’t just sit in one department. They need a cross-government response so it’s crucially important that the commitments that we made are kept,” he said.