Let them eat cake: Jeremy Hunt by Dan Murrell
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Commons Confidential: the Unhealthy Secretary’s slice of the cake

Meanwhile Nigel Evans returns to Westminster. 

Bumping into Jeremy Hunt, I noticed that the Unhealthy Secretary wears an NHS enamel lapel badge. It adds to the boyish minister’s air of a harassed hospital junior manager. He’s clean-cut, too. The Tory MP bragged to his local newspaper in Surrey that he’s no philanderer. Hunt, whose wife is expecting their third child, issued the information during a lunch to celebrate an office move by the rag. According to the paper: “When invited to cut the cake, decorated with an edible print of the Haslemere Herald front page, Mr Hunt said he was pleased not to see a stop-press ‘local MP embroiled in sex scandal’ story and promised there never would be one.” He’s shafting the NHS instead.

How often does Ed Miliband go up to his Doncaster constituency? An informant muttered that it may not be very often, if the Labour leader’s standard question to people from Tykeland is any guide. Miliband is prone to inquire: “How are things in Yorkshire?” It could just be an ice-breaker but the informant felt that Mili has a hazy grasp of what occurs in the white rose counties.

Nick Clegg never strikes me as particularly familiar with Sheffield, the steel city. Yet we know straight from the retired police horse’s mouth that David Cameron has ridden every inch of Witney with the Chipping Norton set. In the PM’s case, familiarity may, depending on events at the Old Bailey, prove a weakness.

The pressure is getting to scribbler-turned-spinner Patrick O’Flynn. Hired by Ukip as Nigel Farage’s chief propagandist and destined to be an MEP, O’Flynn was a genial if reactionary hack for many years on the Daily Express. Lobby correspondents grumbled, after he inadvertently sent a sweary text about a Times journalist to the writer, that O’Flynn refuses to return calls, takes offence easily and hangs up when he doesn’t like the line of questioning. It didn’t take long for him to develop the politicians’ disease known as thin skin.

As Nigel “Not Guilty” Evans returned to Westminster at a party thrown by the Tory David Davis, a snout recounted details of a colourful exchange during Evans’s trial on rape and sexual assault charges which suggest he should expect no favours when John Bercow is in the big chair. The judge, summing up a contretemps in a Commons bar, said Lembit Öpik had been referred to as “a c***”. The prosecuting counsel intervened to remind him Öpik had actually been called “a f***ing dickhead” and that the C-word had been applied to Bercow. Such language is sure to catch the Speaker’s attention, if not his eye when Evans hopes to be called.

Things you never thought you’d hear. MP on his phone: “Give me 20 minutes. I’m at a fundraiser for a food bank and the buffet is fabulous.” 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 01 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The Islam issue

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.