Stay classy: Wake up London’s Vanessa Bafoe
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Capital punishment: the launch of London Live

There can’t be a human being alive who would willingly sit through most of the new station’s original output.

London Live

According to a certain newspaper website, on the evening of the launch of London Live, the capital’s new television station, its proprietor, Evgeny Lebedev, invited 30 friends over to his place to celebrate this historic moment. Stephen Fry, Liz Hurley, Andrew Neil, Tracey Emin, Ed Miliband – you know, just your average midweek crowd. Lord, how I would have loved to have been there, my hand deep in a bowl of salted almonds.

Assuming a flat-screen was in play, what did his pals make of it? And if, as I’ve read, Tony Hall, the opera-loving director general of the BBC, was in attendance, what was his reaction to London Live’s magazine programme Not the One Show (weekdays, 7pm)? At the least, it must have put the axing of BBC3 in a new light, for beside the incontinent wittering of Not the One Show’s presenter Louise Scodie, even Snog Marry Avoid? starts to look like something Lord Reith might have enjoyed. Poker faces all round, one imagines.

Like BBC3, London Live is aiming to attract a young audience. I don’t think it should hold its breath. It may be that some people will tune in to watch the programmes it has bought in – Misfits, Peep Show . . . er, London’s Burning – but there can’t be a human being alive, young or old, who would willingly sit through most of its original output (under the terms of its licence, the channel must screen five and a half hours of London “news” a day). Ten minutes is my unbroken endurance record so far, though with wine and a takeaway I might be able to make it to 12.

The first show I caught was London Go (weekdays, 6.30pm), a guide to all that’s happening in the capital. Or not. Outside the O2 in Greenwich, Maleena Pone was talking to people as they arrived to see Justin Timberlake. “Do you play an instrument?” she asked a schoolgirl fan. “I play the clarinet,” said the girl. “I think Justin would like the clarinet,” said Pone. Keen to build the excitement, she made reference to the “flood” of people coming her way. Three blokes duly sauntered past. She then handed over to her co-presenter, who was outside the Assembly Hall in Islington, north London. “What’s Justin’s favourite colour?” she asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. We flipped back to Pone but she didn’t know either. My God. Even now, I’m on tenterhooks. Could someone tweet me the answer? Still, on the upside, it seems there are loos at the O2. Try finding that kind of information in Time Out.

A comfort break for me – I soothed myself by banging my head on the kitchen table –  and then it was time for Not the One Show. (See what they did there? I’d be tempted to quote the proverb “A cat may look at a king” if The One Show weren’t so dire.) This programme comes from the London Live studio, which is roughly twice the size of Phillip Schofield’s old broom cupboard and has a Do It All aesthetic that DIY fans will adore (think bar stools). The young panellists, among them the homes and property correspondent of the Evening Standard, which has lately come over all North Korean in the cause of its sister company, were doing a news quiz. “I see a haystack and a needle,” said one, gazing at a photograph of, yes, a needle and a haystack. “Something is . . . lost.” It turned out that the thing in question was – stay classy, guys – flight MH370.

Does this stuff count as “current affairs”? It seems that London Live is hoping it does, its definition of “news” having to do mostly with “connecting” people, with persuading them to join the big “debate” (ie, send us your tweets, which will fill up minutes of airtime and cost us nothing). Unfortunately, its idea of what constitutes a debate-worthy issue beggars belief. When I turned on Wake Up London (weekdays, 6am), the breakfast show, the presenter was asking: which are better, cats or dogs? A “reporter” had been despatched to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to gawp at cute kittens and droopy-faced mutts.

What’s that? You already knew there was a world-famous dogs home at Battersea? Oh, well. Plenty more insights to come. Next week: London Live reveals that Tower Bridge sometimes opens right up. Plus, cabbies: aren’t they comedians? Do send us your texts on that one!

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Anxiety nation

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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.