CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. Stephen Byers and the sad ghost of New Labour (Times)

Byers's fall from grace mirrors that of his party, writes David Aaronovitch. As New Labour was "intensely relaxed" about people getting "filthy rich", it is not surprising that Byers sought to profit himself.

2. Little has changed since the scandals of the Nineties (Independent)

Meanwhile, in the Independent, Antony Barnett recalls the first "cash for access" scandal in 1998, and says that little has changed in the murky world of political lobbying.

3. Only America can end Britain's Trident folly (Guardian)

Britain's "independent nuclear deterrent" is neither independent nor a deterrent, says George Monbiot. Yet only when the US dismantles its own Trident missiles will the UK consider doing so.

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4. Britain has bigger problems than the unions (Financial Times)

The Conservatives' recent talk of militant trade unionists is a distraction from the real challenges facing Britain, argues Philip Stephens. The number of working days lost to strike action is a fraction of those lost during the 1970s.

5. Anyone got an idea for the Labour manifesto? (Times)

Labour is struggling to think of affordable manifesto pledges and there are growing tensions over which policies to include, writes Rachel Sylvester. The party must work harder to prove it has not run out of ideas.

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6. Labour's cupboard is bare, apart from the three rattling skeletons (Daily Telegraph)

Warming to the same theme, Mary Riddell writes that Labour could be finished off by this week. The lobbying scandal, a troubled Budget and industrial unrest form the triple onslaught that could destroy the party's election hopes.

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7. Darling prepares for his ultimate test (Independent)

Turning to tomorrow's Budget, Steve Richards says that Alistair Darling faces the biggest test in his long and extraordinary ministerial career. He must deliver an authoritative economic message but also keep his desperate party in the game.

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8. Obama's bounce changes the world (Financial Times)

President Obama's success over health-care reform will undermine the cartoon image of America as a country where big business ruthlessly exploits the poor, says Gideon Rachman.

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9. If this is modernity, let me stay in the public sector cave (Guardian)

New Labour's programme of "modernisation" in the public sector has marginalised the first-hand experience of workers, argues Joe Moran.

10. You've made a fortune -- now let it go (Daily Telegraph)

The example of Albert Gubay, who has given away all but £10m of his £480m fortune, should be emulated, writes Christopher Howse. There are positive social and religious reasons for giving your wealth away.

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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.