On September 1, Andy Burnham urged Labour voters not to “give up on wanting big changes” but also not to “give up on winning the 2020 general election either” (suggesting implicitly that the party could not win under Corbyn). Understanding that supporters wanted clear opposition to the Tories (but failing to recognise that he could not justifiably claim that he himself had opposed them), he promised to: “oppose the extension of right-to-buy to housing associations” whilst “championing policies such as ‘rent to own’” and allowing councils “to borrow money… [to] build more homes”; “stand up for comprehensive education against the enforced academisation of schools”; “fight against the Conservative campaign to demonise the trades unions” and present “outright opposition to the cynical Trade Union Bill”; “lead the opposition to the Welfare Bill” (a particularly laughable claim given his abstention in the previous vote); and ensure an “election win” by advocating “bold ideas such as integrating the NHS and social care, and renationalising the railways” while setting out “exactly how we will pay for each policy”. If Burnham had not shown his lack of commitment to firm principles in the past, maybe he would have been able to attract supporters, but these promises simply seemed to come too late to change anyone’s opinion.
On the same day, in the Channel Four hustings, Yvette Cooper repeated her line about Corbyn’s economic policies being “dodgy” and all three non-Corbyn candidates sought to criticise the frontrunner’s foreign policies. While Cooper argued that Putin was unreasonable and would only respond to ‘firm’ actions from NATO, for example, Burnham claimed that it was “not the time to break international partnerships”. In response to the latter’s argument, Corbyn then asked “which partnership requires us to have nuclear weapons?”
Perhaps the most serious (and erroneous) of accusations, however, was Burnham’s suggestion that Corbyn was “making excuses for Putin” by explaining how NATO’s European expansion after the end of the Cold War had helped to provoke Russian nationalists into electing Putin (which had led in turn to an escalation of hostilities between NATO and Russia). In short, Burnham was trying to ignore historical context and peddle a simplistic argument that lacked a factual basis.
In fact, despite the non-Corbyn candidates’ attempts to slander Corbyn, Kevin Maguire at The Mirror insisted that the latter had easily won the hustings. Although “it was One v Three”, he said, Corbyn proved himself to be “a man of the people” whilst remaining “supremely relaxed and assured of his opinions”.