2022 – Andy Burnham is the frontrunner for Labor leader but also mayor. This is a problem | Martin Kessel

cThe whole problem of Andy Burnham in British politics. But the mayor of Greater Manchester is more a victim than a source. The problem is not limited to him or the Labor party. The same applies to all parties. It is very structural, cultural and British and needs to be addressed.

The problem lies in the disconnect between the realities of British politics and government on the one hand, and the supposed dominance of the unreformed Westminster Parliament on the other. Burnham’s case is particularly timely because the vacancy as Labor leader may soon become vacant. If Durham Police issues a penalty warrant against him for breaching Covid regulations, Keir Starmer has announced he will resign. Burnham is the best bookmaker to succeed him. According to the current situation, he cannot run because he is not a member of Parliament.

The three major parties are currently working on some version of this rule. In order for a candidate to become the leader of the Conservative, Labor or Liberal Democrats, the candidate must be an incumbent deputy. The existence of such rules reduced Tony Bean’s chances of becoming Labor leader in 1983 and Michael Portillo’s chances of leading the Conservative Party in 1997. But it wasn’t always this way. Lord Alec Douglas Home became Conservative Party leader and prime minister in 1963 while still in the House of Lords before relinquishing his title and winning a by-election three weeks later.

It’s possible that Burnham will be able to achieve something similar in a post-Starmer competition. But the by-election and his nomination will require a lot of quick fixation from the top. Burnham’s supporters in Westminster have already raised the possibility that Harriet Harman, a longtime House mother who is stepping down from Parliament for Camberwell and Beckham – where she has a majority of around 34,000 – could step down early and create a vacancy. parachute down.

It is a risky strategy. Domestic parties do not like to be alienated in this way, as Labor has already indicated in its selection for the Wakefield by-election. Voters also don’t like it when their support is taken for granted; Labor has lost seats in such circumstances in the past. Greater Manchester voters can vent their displeasure at Burnham’s departure in a new mayoral contest. Nor is it at all certain that Starmer or a passing party leader would have the motive or influence to offer Burnham.

There is more than one thing. What if London Mayor Sadiq Khan decided to throw his hat in the ring? Khan is basically in the same position as Burnham. However, Labor could face a difficult choice between the two if a by-election position is vacant in the Khan district of south London. What if the Welsh Prime Minister, Mark Drakeford, who proved victorious in last year’s Labor election, also had an uncharacteristic desire to be himself on a bigger stage?

This kind of problem is becoming more and more common to all parties – and it will continue. One reason for this is that the parties are subject to less strict control by the centre. But this is also due to the redistribution of power down from the central government through decentralization. In the United Kingdom, this developed piecemeal and asymmetrically, primarily with England and the Westminster Parliament as afterthoughts rather than following a classically created draft constitution. But people are used to it.

Until the early 2000s, some of these disputes were dealt with through dual mandates. Northern Ireland MPs often sat in both Stormont and Old Westminster. During the transition to decentralization, the leaders of the Labor Party in Scotland and Wales, Donald Dewar and Alon Michael, remained MPs and sat in both parliaments. Alex Salmond was the leader of the SNP for the second time, from 2004 to 2014, although he only sat in Holyrood in 2007 and did not relinquish his seat at Westminster until 2010 – even as First Minister.

Then came the expense scandal. Dual states are now considered inherently notorious and have been widely banned. But the rules are still muddled. In Northern Ireland, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson was deciding between his election to Westminster and Stormont. Choose Westminster. A similar ban exists on dual mandates in Wales. But the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Douglas Ross, is still seated in Holyrood and Westminster.

And while Burnham will be legally required to choose between a mayor position and a seat in Parliament, Khan can hold both, as Johnson and Ken Livingstone have done for limited terms. Most positions outside of Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire also allow for dual mandates. Labour’s Dan Jarvis was mayor of South Yorkshire until earlier this month but remains an MP.

The current chaos is damaging British public life. Any system that has helped prevent a talented Conservative Party like Ruth Davidson from playing a greater role on the British stage is a failure. The same goes for Burnham, who prevents Labor from taking advantage of the credibility he has gained by making Westminster a national wealth to his party. Any system that produces Boris Johnson instead – as the mismatch between decentralization and centralization has done – needs to be rethought.

Some might argue that the answer is a comprehensive new constitutional arrangement in which all major cities, regions, and nations are represented in some way, similar to the German Bundesrat, in the new House of Lords that replaced the Lords. In an intergovernmental system of this kind, the decentralized barons — Drakeford, Donaldson, Nicola Sturgeon and perhaps even a future First Minister of England — could find a place ex officio and help make dual mandates more understandable and less prone to accusations of defamation, and this increases the likelihood that they will be Parties are able to choose the leaders they want.

However, the main difficulty remains the miserable failure of the British Parliament and the British parties to either understand or adapt to decentralization. Government in Britain changed fundamentally with the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Mayorship. The parties were slow and resistant to change. Her grammar and reasoning still reflect self-control.

The answer is not to abandon decentralization or embrace it with renewed enthusiasm. It is about recognizing its true strengths, but also its true weaknesses, and incorporating those lessons into a common vision of Britain that is not somewhat reactionary or blatantly utopian. This is not an argument that Andy Burnham will or will not be the next Labor leader. But it’s an argument for him to pass on. It’s an argument for the parties to open up the rules a little bit more and recognize the kind of country we’ve become. If you do, we may be on our way to solving Burnham’s problem.