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Party conference will be last before Labour governs, says Andy Burnham | Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham has said Labour is on the brink of government, predicting the party will win back all of the “red wall” seats it lost in 2019.

The Greater Manchester mayor also doubled down on calls for Labour to reinstate the 20p tax rate after planned cuts by Liz Truss, saying the money should be directed to public sector pay, and reiterated calls for nationalisation of the railways, calling it a “no-brainer”.

Burnham, who has a tense relationship with Keir Starmer over some clashes on policy, said he believed the Labour leader was on track to be the next prime minister, though he did not deny he still had his own leadership ambitions.

In a Q&A with the Guardian editor, Katharine Viner, at the Labour party conference, Burnham said: “I felt in the Tory leadership election … it felt like a party that was getting ready to leave government, I think this is the last before we are in government.

“I think we will win all of those “red wall” seats, in my judgment. I say to those MPs, they basically have a choice – start speaking out against this budget or start clearing your offices.”

Burnham said it was a “get ready for government” conference, adding: “I think we are odds on now to be in government … certainly within two years. I think we do it by not drawing battle lines with ourselves. We do it by turning out, united together – there has to be a sense of urgency now.”

He has often been linked with returning to parliament, but hinted he would only be interested in a return to run for the leadership. “There’s no vacancy. Keir is in a position where he can lead us to victory. He has my support, I’m here to help. One day I can see I may go back, but I don’t know if the circumstances are right.”

He also hinted at frustrations, however, about being marginalised at the party conference. “I haven’t made a speech at Labour conference as mayor of Greater Manchester,” he said. “It’s not just about me, it’s about the people of Greater Manchester.”

Burnham also reiterated calls for Starmer to be bolder in delivering Labour’s message. “Let me be clear, Keir has got us into that position, where we can now go on,” he said. “But we could just go out that step further, and answer that question that the public have – so what would you do?”

Burnham drew a dividing line with the Labour leader, who said he would not raise the basic rate of tax back to 20p, saying: “I personally don’t think we should be accepting the 20p cut [to 19p]. There is always this sense of the Tories creating a trap, but it still benefits higher earners more than lower earners. I would get £375 a year, which I shouldn’t have and don’t need.

“For me that money should be going to give nurses a good pay rise this winter, a substantial rise for care workers, the pay of firefighters and others who are going to be seriously hurt by the cost of living crisis.”

Speaking earlier on Sunday, Starmer confirmed the party would reintroduce the top rate of tax, saying those paid hundreds of thousands of pounds should not get a sizeable tax cut while public services were “on their knees”. However, the Labour leader said it was “correct” for the 20p rate to fall to 19p next year.

Burnham also said he was also strongly in favour of rail nationalisation – an issue likely to be a point of tension at debates on conference floor over the coming days. “I personally think renationalisation of the railways is a no-brainer, privatisation has never worked. It really doesn’t work and I hope that Labour will pick renationalisation.”

He said the mini-budget on Friday, where the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, abolished the 45p tax and announced billions more in borrowing to fund tax cuts, was a “catastrophic political judgment”. He said he had “never seen anything that audacious in my political life … it is utterly immoral when we’ve got the cost of living crisis.”

Burnham said it was essential the left did not get divided by culture wars, which he called “the Trump playbook” of distracting voters from important issues, adding: “I think we’ve got to recognise that this is an initiative from the right to divide working people and make people hate each other and become disorganised and unable to work out what they’re doing – handing over these bonuses to their donors and their bankers. They get away with all that while they’re trying to start cultural wars to divide us.”

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