Andy Burnham faces a tough challenge to win Labour's Greater Manchester mayoral nomination due to a combination of his late entry into the race, tight spending limits, and the demographics of the region's Labour members, according to local party insiders who spoke to BuzzFeed News.
The shadow home secretary announced on Wednesday he was running to be the region's first elected mayor, who will be responsible for the area's transport, policing, and health concerns after the vote is held in May 2017.
Burnham's decision to run has massively increased media interest in the mayoral race. However, with Labour almost certain to win the vote, the real contest is over who will be nominated by the 12,000 local Labour party members – and local activists insist Burnham is by no means certain to beat his internal party rivals, interim mayor Tony Lloyd and Bury South MP Ivan Lewis.
Having lost last summer's Labour leadership contest to Jeremy Corbyn, he now faces a challenge.
"He’s underestimated what the challenge of the selection is, the way the rules are completely different to his leadership campaign,” said one source on a rival campaign. "Organisationally it’s a different kettle of fish."
One of the main problems is the incredibly tight budgets available to potential candidates.
Following enormous spending in Labour's London mayoral nomination battle – where David Lammy spent almost £400,000 to finish in fourth place – Labour has moved to dramatically cut spending limits for future contests.
As a result each Greater Manchester mayoral nominee will be allowed to spend just £2,000 plus 10p for every local party member – giving a total campaign budget of just over £3,000 for all literature, communication, and individual events.
That's not even enough to cover the cost of posting a leaflet to every member, forcing the potential mayoral candidates to all but abandon the use of text messages, paid phone banking, and other forms of incessant communication. Burnham used some of these during last summer's leadership election.
As a result candidates will have to find other ways to communicate with members. And that could mean winning the support of local unions.
Staffing costs are excluded from the spending cap, as are member-to-member communications by other organisations. This means one crucial way for Burnham, Lewis, and Lloyd to reach local Labour members is through winning the support of organisations that can talk on their behalf. And there's one clear leader on this front: Tony Lloyd, who has secured the backing of almost all the major local unions, including Unite and Unison.
Even shopworkers' union USDAW, which backed Burnham in his leadership campaign, is still on the fence.
"We haven't taken any position as yet, and we won't be taking a position until we see the whole field of candidates," said a spokesperson for the union.
Although the unions cannot directly target Labour activists, they can send material to all their members in the Greater Manchester area encouraging them to back their favoured candidate.
The big hope for Burnham is that the endorsements made before he joined the race are largely symbolic – and that his late entry into the campaign means the unions will not put large amounts of money into Lloyd's campaign. Rather than wait for union backing, Burnham is expected to unveil the endorsements of a series of high-profile Labour establishment figures, such as MPs and councillors.
Media recognition will matter in the campaign, but it's a different sort of media recognition.
Among local activists there's an acceptance that Burnham is by far the biggest name in the contest and they accept he will win many votes based simply on recognition. But while Burnham will benefit from mainstream coverage, Lloyd already enjoys a natural presence in the region due to his position as Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner, as well as interim mayor.
This means he's able to get free coverage just for doing his job – such as how he was immediately on TV following last weekend's evacuation of Old Trafford following a bomb scare at a Manchester United game.
The hope for Burnham is that name recognition among local activists and his experience at a high level can overcome local organisational problems – hence the slogan of a "cabinet-level job that requires cabinet-level experience".
There's a battle to convince members the mayoral role is important, in part because of chancellor George Osborne's involvement.
“Osborne’s offered us a flawed deal, we want a fair one,” said a spokesperson for Ivan Lewis, who is campaigning on a platform of more radical change. “The only way we can stand up to him is to stand up for Greater Manchester and fight inequality.”
Multiple Labour party activists said there was deep suspicion within constituency parties of the entire concept of a Greater Manchester mayor, largely because local members fear the role was created by Osborne as a way of shifting the blame for spending cuts. Burnham, who originally opposed parts of the devolution deal, will need to fix that.
A large part of Greater Manchester's Labour membership is in the city itself, rather than in the outer boroughs.
There are around 12,000 Labour party members in Greater Manchester, of which around a quarter are in the central Manchester constituencies of Central, Withington, Blackley and Broughton, and Gorton.
This should benefit Tony Lloyd, a former MP for Manchester Central, according to political analyst and Labour party member Ian Warren. "The problem Andy's got is the membership in his part of Greater Manchester is much smaller," said Warren. "He will have a base in the west of Greater Manchester but there's a smaller membership there."
Burnham, MP for Leigh, on the edge of Greater Manchester, could find it harder to attract these voters and has fewer potential supporters in his constituency.
However, there is one big bit of good news for the shadow home secretary: Only Labour members who joined the party before July 2015 will be able to vote. This will exclude many of the 8,000 people who signed up to vote against Burnham and for Jeremy Corbyn in last summer's party leadership contest.
In the end, it will probably come down to who can get out and meet as many voters as possible in person.
Burnham's campaign team are aware they are behind in terms of organisation but hope to overcome that by producing strong policies and selling his experience in government. Nominations formally open on Monday, with a result due at the start of August – and after two failed leadership campaigns, this could be Burnham's last shot at a top political job.
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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