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Labour pledges to improve access to arts and culture for working class children

Shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher warns of increasing exclusion since 2010.

Working class children are increasingly excluded from the arts and culture, shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher has warned, pledging to make the issue a "priority" for Labour. In an interview with the New Statesman, the Barnsley East MP highlighted statistics showing the gap in participation between working class pupils and those from affluent backgrounds. Research by Ipsos MORI found that 70 per cent of children from non-graduate families spend fewer than three hours a week on cultural activity, compared to more than three hours a week for 80 per cent of those from graduate families. 

Dugher said the Conservatives had exacerbated the problem by reducing arts teacher training places and abolishing Creative Partnerships (which brought musicians, artists and actors to classrooms) with a fall of a third in the number of primary school children taking part in cultural and arts activities. The number of teachers in this area has fallen by 11 per cent since 2010. A report by the Royal Schools of Music exam board found that 40 per cent of children from disadvantaged backgrounds had never played an instrument and said they had no opportunity to learn at school. The same report found that 74 per cent of children from affluent backgrounds had instrumental lessons - individually or in class groups - compared to 55 per cent from disadvantaged social groups. Only half of primary school music teachers surveyed last year by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation said they had the resources needed for music education. 

Dugher said: "There’s a massive, massive problem out there and it disproportionately hurts people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As someone who came from a working class background, who represents a very working class constituency, I think how we make sure that we’re doing everything we can to improve access to arts and culture for working class people is a massive priority."

He pledged that Labour's review of arts and culture investment, announced at this year's conference, would examine:

- National and local funding options to ensure that every child can learn an instrument and have a creative education.

-  How to make creative education more of a priority for school inspectors.

- How to ensure schools in disadvantaged areas forge better links with local cultural organisations and increase the work experience opportunities offered to working class children. 

Dugher also said he would examine making public funding "absolutely conditional" on arts organisations improving access for working class children. The outreach programmes would then be reviewed and audited every year to ensure the targets are being met. The rewards from increasing access, Dugher said, were high. Data shows that 40 per cent of 16-year-olds who engage in the arts and culture perform above average in school tests and are more likely to go on to university. 

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.