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Al Murray announces he's running against Farage in South Thanet

"Let it be known, like many of the parliamentary hopefuls in the upcoming election, I have no idea where South Thanet is. But did that stop Margaret Thatcher from saving the Falkland Islands? No."

Stand-up comedian Al Murray has today announced - in character as the ironically-xenophobic Pub Landlord - that he's going to be running for MP in South Thanet, against another "bloke waving a pint around, offering common sense solutions". In a party political broadcast on behalf of "FUKP" (the "Free the United Kingdom Party"), he said:

That is why I am here to announce my intention to run for election as member of parliament for the constituency of South Thanet. Let it be known, like many of the parliamentary hopefuls in the upcoming election, I have no idea where South Thanet is. But did that stop Margaret Thatcher from saving the Falkland Islands? No.

I will not at any point try to reach out to you. Ugh. I will not be offering the nation a conversation. Who wants to talk to politicians? Nobody normal. I'm not going to pretend you're my friends either. No. The reason I'm standing is because the system is broken. We all know it is. You hear people saying you shouldn't vote. Well, you should vote, you should vote boys and girls, and you should vote for me."

He's offering a bunch of "common sense policies for common sense people", including:

  • "1p a pint" and "1p a glass of wine (fruit-based drink for the ladies) too".
  • The pound will be revalued as being worth £1.10.
  • People turning up at A&E when it's not an accident or an emergency will "be sent to a random hospital department" to be treated instead. 
  • Deliberately making the UK "a whole lot worse" so that immigrants stop wanting to come to "the greatest nation on Earth".
  • Bricking up the Channel Tunnel. ("With British bricks, of course - but probably have to get some Poles in to do it. Common sense.").
  • School places allocated by "street raffle".
  • Alex Salmond to be made first minister of Norwich, "so he can understand what being ignored by the rest of the country is really like".
  • Pledging that the UK will leave Europe by 2025, and the Solar System by 2050.
  • National service, "but only for those who don't want to do it".

He concludes:

We in the FUKP don't claim to have all the answers, or, indeed, any of them. But what we do promise is we will save the British pub, fight the Germans (if they're up for it), and burn down the Houses of Parliament for the insurance.

The other parties are offering you the Moon on a stick. We can do better than that: a British Moon, on a British stick."

Murray's gigs are often popular with far-right nationalists who don't get that he's taking the piss out of them. Maybe he's banking on Ukip voters in South Thanet having the same problem in the polling booth in May. 

I'm a mole, innit.

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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.