Andy Burnham’s Desert Island Discs

In case you missed it: Andy Burnham is a working class Roman catholic from the north of England. Not the midlands. And certainly not the south. The north.

He has no aversion to posh people. Nor to protestants. Not at all. But he is not one of them. And it is important that you know that. Weirdly, Burnham has put his ‘ordinary’ northern origins at the centre of his Labour leadership campaign.

His desert island discs are parodically reflective of this. The only tune he’ll hear in paradise which hasn’t been recorded by either a Manc or a Roman catholic or both will be “Protection”, by the Bristol “trip hop” duo, Massive Attack.

Which is a great track from the same trippy album as “karmacoma (Jamaican aroma)”, an electronic hymn to a more modern lifestyle than Burnham usually recommends.

Three of his choices, though, are by some incarnation of Steven Morrissey – the ultimate Manc, cultural catholic and teen-bedroom whinger. Indeed, the only people in the world more Manc than Morrissey are the Stone Roses. Like most Mancs, of course, they are not really from Manchester. Their iconic lead singer, Ian Brown, is actually from Warrington. Like Andy Burnham.

To be fair to Andy – a guitarist and former culture secretary whose choices reveal that, more than his leadership rivals, he actually likes music – he at least managed to leave the Oasis CDs in the box.

He couldn’t resist Elbow, though. Originally from Bury, they are in the vanguard of the new generation of supermancs.

The Pogues may not be Mancs, but they are extremely Irish and Roman catholic. Drinkers to go with the druggies and the emotional boys on anti-depressants.

These records are the real Andy Burnham’s real choices. The tortuous process by which we wrung them out of him makes us certain of that. Nor could any spin doctor choose three songs out of eight by Morrissey and two by the Pogues.

Perhaps what started as a political miscalculation – that relentless northernism could be a winning leadership election USP – has, months later, taken over Andy Burnham’s personality.

Because, in real life, he is not like this. Yes, he is northern; but not obtrusively so. Lightly accented, the real Andy Burnham wears the other vestiges of his background with subtlety. Cambridge educated, he has worked almost his whole adult life in London, sleeping far more adult nights in the nation’s capital than in its northern reaches.

Which you can tell when you meet him. Burnham is unconvincing as a professional northener. True, he is normal, likeable, nice. There is no side to him, as they say in the north.

But he is as sleekly metropolitan as the next New Labour maharaja. Where you came from can’t erase what you became. And Andy Burnham is an English énarque. An uber-privileged, double-alpha dauphin of the super-elite.

The nice thing about the real Andy is that he wears his remarkable success (he’s still only 40) with charming humility.

Northern Andy, by contrast, is the jarring affectation of a normally unpretentious man. Its only convincing element may be the soundtrack.


1. How soon is now – The Smiths
2. There is a light – The Smiths
3. The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn – The Pogues
4. Dirty Old Town – The Pogues
5. Ten Storey Love Song – Stone Roses
6. Every day is like Sunday – Morrissey
7. Bones of you – Elbow
8. Protection – Massive Attack


The Damned United – David Peace


Tallisker whisky


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9 Responses to “Andy Burnham’s Desert Island Discs”

  1. Bill Kristol-Balls says:

    What happened to The La’s Andy?

    I seem to remember you telling Andrew Neil that ‘There She Goes’ was your favourite tune when you were on the Daily Politics a while back.

    Think Chris Grayling was on at the same time and chose something by Dire Straits (insert own gag).

  2. Mike says:


    only working class hero standing in this election

    not as left as i would like

    but hes based in real community politics (and football mad)

    so he gets my first vote

  3. Under The Paving Stones says:

    Perhaps you shouldn’t sneer so much at Andy’s points about not having the right connections, and breaking through when you don’t know the right people etc.

    This chimes with the real life experiences of many people from all over the country and many people can, and indeed do, sympathise with him. Obama made similar arguments, of course.

    Granted, it’s not enough to sustain a leadership campaign though.

    (And for the sake of accuracy Ian Brown, although born in Warrington, actually grew up and spent his early life in Timperley – a sort of lower-middle class slice of Greater Manchester/Trafford suburbia).

    Bit unfair really. Maybe he just really likes The Smiths! (Cameron’s favourite band as well if I remember… odd).

  4. Ben says:

    Nice choice, in recognition of which he is promoted to my 4th preference over David.

    Note on your ‘Manc’ theme that ‘Dirty Old Town’ was written about Salford.

  5. AmberStar says:

    I love every track. I am Scottish – so more ‘northern’ than Andy 😉

    Joy Division, New Order, Buzzcocks, Shaun Ryder (& Oasis as you said) could all have had a mention, if it was just about Manchester. I’m glad he made room for a Massive track; they are one of my favourites bands.

    I was putting Andy as my 1st choice for leader anyway. This has reinforced my decision. And if I was stuck on desert island, I’d be glad if Andy’s suitcase washed up on the beach. The other guys have atrocious taste in music. I’d read Andy’s book choice & drink his scotch too. 😎

  6. AmberStar says:

    @ Mike

    I agree with everything you wrote. 😎

  7. Jo says:

    These are all brilliant choices and I love all of them. The writer of this article is really misinformed about where Andy lives – actually in his constituency where his family are growing up.More than ever he is my first choice now- a real person who I can believe in.
    PS why do I wonder if the article author has spent any time in the north?!

  8. Claire says:

    “Yes, he is northern; but not obtrusively so. Lightly accented, the real Andy Burnham wears the other vestiges of his background with subtlety. Cambridge educated, he has worked almost his whole adult life in London, sleeping far more adult nights in the nation’s capital than in its northern reaches.”

    Mike, like Jo I am thinking you are somehow not northern. Really quite patronising! I already liked Andy, but seeing some Smiths feature there makes him most definitely my favourite!

  9. Claire says:

    Sorry, I meant the author rather than Mike.

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