They are the masters now. Photo:Getty
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2015 was the first election I cared about. It didn't end well

Five years ago, the election was thousands of miles away in both sense. This time, it was up close and personal. The worst thing is, I'm one of the luckier ones.

I woke up on Friday 8 May at about 6.45am in a state of confusion. I had collapsed on the sofa, still in my school uniform, and as I reached for my phone to check Twitter, I prayed that the exit polls would be wrong. I prayed that my favourite female MPs, the likes of Lynne Featherstone and Jane Ellison who have supported my work to end female genital mutilation (FGM) had kept their seats. I prayed that Nigel Farage would resign and Nick Clegg wouldn’t lose his seat. (Don’t judge – I have a soft spot for him). Most of all, I prayed that the Conservatives would not win the 326 seats they needed in the House of Commons that would lead to a full-blown Tory government for the next five years.

It was all wishful thinking. To my horror, the Conservatives had already won 240 seats with 118 seats to go, many of which could be won by them.. And by the time my afternoon lessons were over, David Cameron had smugly talked about his “sweet victory”, Nigel Farage had called Ukip the party for “young working women” (which is strange, as he called for women of ‘childbearing age’ not to be employed) and the Conservatives had won a majority in the House of Commons with 331 seats. Everything seemed like a mess and still exhausted from the night before, I went to bed.

This was the first general election I paid full attention to. Five years ago I was 11 and living in Nigeria and British politics felt, and was, thousands of miles away. A lot has changed since 2010 and a lot will change by 2020. By 2020, I want to have graduated from university, hopefully have a job and might start looking at getting my feet up the property ladder. However, things look a bit bleak. The average student will now graduate with £44,000 of debt and youth unemployment stands at 63.2 per cent. Under the Tories, 3.3 million young people are living with their parents into their thirties as rents and deposits continue to increase. Analysis from the House of Commons Library shows that if things continue the way they are, the average deposit for a house will be £72,000.

I am not saying that a Labour government is the best thing for Britain; I really don’t know. Nevertheless, I am certain that a full-blown Tory government is not what Britain needs, and it is certainly not what young people need.

Labour promised to ban zero hour contracts and the party also promised to ‘tackle the growth of unpaid internships because thousands of highly paid young people who cannot afford to work for free are locked out of too many of our professions’. 16-17 year olds would be given the vote –a huge constitutional step forward, although I still think political education is important. And they would unlock a Future Homes Fund to invest in increasing housing supply and legislate to make three year tenancies the norm. Oh, and they were planning to reduce tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000. Reading through these policies, it felt like one party was actually making policies that could influence the lives of the most vulnerable young people in Britain. Reading through the Conservative policies and it felt like somebody had pointed out there was nothing for young people so at 2am in the morning, with some slightly tipsy people round the table, stuff was written down and the manifesto was sent to the printer. There wasn’t enough to show that David Cameron cared.

My biggest fear now is the poor will get poorer and the rich will get richer. I worry that so many young people will be homeless and in debt. I worry many will be unable to find jobs. I worry that mental health issues will continue to be ignored. I worry that young women will be ‘othered’ and silence and I worry that we will continue to pretend like Britain is a country where people of colour don’t exist. I am extremely privileged and I know that. I have a place to call home. I will not go hungry. Not everybody is as lucky as I am, and luck shouldn’t come into accessing the basic things in life regardless of personal circumstance. This is why I believe in a party that does not discriminate and puts the most vulnerable in society first. This is why I want a party that prioritizes young people, the future of our country.

Instead, I’m worried that things are going to get a lot worse.

 

June Eric-Udorie is a 17-year-old writer whose writing has appeared in Cosmopolitan and the New Statesman among others.

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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.