Andy Burnham at the Labour leadership hustings. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
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Burnham's cloth ears, commons bench wars, and the Durham Miner's Gala

Asked if the cross-dressing potter Grayson Perry could join the fun, the DMA’s general secretary, Dave Hopper, replied: “We’ve got nee problem with him. It’s the Labour f***ers we never see that I object to.”

To the 131st Durham Miners’ Gala, where Labour leadership wannabes jostled for attention amid the brass bands and banners. The lefty Jeremy Corbyn delivered a fiery speech from the main platform and Tom Watson waved to the parade from the balcony of the Hotel Royal County. The pair have been nominated for leader and deputy by the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA).

Asked if the cross-dressing potter Grayson Perry could join the fun, the DMA’s general secretary, Dave Hopper, replied: “We’ve got nee problem with him. It’s the Labour f***ers we never see that I object to.” Cue the arrival of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, to pose for photographs in the crowd.

Brooks Newmark, who resigned first as a minister and then as an MP over a newspaper report about a peep shot of the inside of his Paisley pyjamas, isn’t the only Tory who exposes himself to danger. An eminent author of historical fiction whispered to your correspondent that a horrified lady friend had shown her a private picture sent unsolicited by a Conservative member, captioned: “Look what you’re missing.” The MP felt, wrongly, that the bloated organ would impress the target of his desires. Instead, he is a figure of fun. Would the dishonourable member like to out himself?

Praises for the SNP 56 are secretly being sung by Tories. A cabinet minister informs me that the Nats are chummy with Conservatives in the privacy of the tearoom. I suspect the SNP doesn’t shout about that in Scotland. The minister observed: “I’m surprised how friendly the SNP [is] with us. Then again . . . we both hate Labour.”

Fresh details emerge of the declaration of Westminster that has ended the bench wars in the Commons chamber between the SNP and Labour. The deal is that Labour is guaranteed four of the nine places that may be reserved by prayer cards in brass name-holders, including Dennis Skinner’s corner slot, with the Nats allocated the other five. Everybody budges up to squeeze in a fifth Labour bottom (to ensure parity of numbers). If only the two parties got on so well in Scotland – or the tearoom.

At Labour hustings, the deputy “undercard” is more entertaining than the main event. Digs by Rupert Murdoch’s nemesis Tom Watson at candidates courting the Sun King included a pop at Caroline Flint. When Watson lamented the absence of Chuka Umunna or Rushanara Ali on all-white panels, she was overheard muttering, “I bet you stitched them up.”

Cloth ears, it seems, were to blame for Andy Burnham’s claim at hustings that petrol costs “160p” a litre. Mary Creagh, sitting alongside him, had muttered that it was £1.16 but Burnham misheard. If ever a favour backfired . . . 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Motherhood Trap

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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.