Ed Miliband addresses an audience at The Backstage Centre on May 27, 2014 in Purfleet. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband's half-apology over the Sun photo will please no one

The Labour leader has been left looking like a man trying to have it all ways.

Ed Miliband's decision to pose with the Sun's World Cup edition went down predictably badly among Labour MPs. The backlash was led by those from Merseyside constituencies, who have long boycotted the paper over its reporting of the Hillsborough disaster (into which a public inquest is ongoing). Steve Rotheram, the MP for Liverpool Walton, and others met with Miliband, who was reportedly "left in no doubt whatsoever about what they thought" and responded by saying he was "very, very sorry".

A furious Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, declared: "Like everybody in this city I am really hurt and offended by Ed Milliband’s support for The S*n ‘newspaper’ today. Such clear support for that publication at any time would be wrong but at such a sensitive time is deeply shocking."

A Labour spokesperson then said: "Ed Miliband was supporting England's bid to win the World Cup"

"He totally understands the anger that the people of Merseyside feel towards the Sun over Hillsborough and fully supports the demand for justice for the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy."

After Rotheram tweeted that Miliband himself would make a public statement today, Labour issued an updated response, this time including the word "sorry". A spokesperson said:

Ed Miliband was promoting England's bid to win the World Cup and is proud to do so. But he understands the anger that is felt towards the Sun over Hillsborough by many people in Merseyside and he is sorry to those who feel offended

But while this goes further than the initial response, it's still a classic non-apology apology (of the kind that voters loathe): Miliband isn't sorry for the act itself, but sorry if anyone is offended.

The outcome is likely to please almost no one. Those appalled by what one Labour source called "that fucking photo" won't be placated by the non-apology, while those who initially defended Miliband (on the grounds that the leader of the opposition should seek good relations with the country's most-read paper) will now accuse him of lacking the courage of his convictions.

Myself, I thought the photo was a mistake. Few would have noticed if Miliband hadn't joined Cameron and Clegg in posing with paper and the well-publicised refusal of Mersey postmen to deliver the free edition (which was sent to every UK household) should have alerted him to the political dangers. While it would be unwise and gratuitous for Miliband to cut ties with the Sun entirely, he didn't need to do this. His stated aim might have been to promote "England's bid to win the World Cup" but he ended up looking like a salesman for Rupert Murdoch.

Among other things, the row has highlighted a clear disconnect between Miliband's communications operation and his political operation. I'm told by Labour sources that the latter knew nothing about the photograph before it appeared.

Miliband has often cited his decision to declare war on Murdoch and News Corp during the phone-hacking scandal as evidence of his bold leadership and his willingness to "break the rules". But just at the moment when the phone-hacking jury has retired to consider its verdict, with all that could entail, the Labour leader has been left looking like a man trying to have it all ways and painfully lacking in that most precious commodity in politics: authenticity.

Ed Miliband wants to be a "new" kind of politician, but he looked like a very old one yesterday.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.