2020 has been full of surprises.
A pandemic turned the world upside down and shocked us all (apart from Dominic Cummings, of course, who saw it coming long before he had his eyesight tested at the castle). Wildfires burned just about everywhere, “murder hornets” threatened an invasion and a global movement against racism was ignited.
But in the UK at least, 2020 still has surprises up its sleeve.
This week’s politics news has forced lots of people (including this writer) to face up to another reality: 2020 is the year Andy Burnham became hot.
We’re not sure how this happened, but this shift occurred sometime over the last week when Burnham found himself in a face off with Boris Johnson.
In a nutshell: the Manchester Mayor didn’t want to be moved into ‘Tier 3’ (the highest level) of Covid restrictions because he didn’t think the evidence supported it. He accused the Tory government of treating the north “with contempt” and using Manchester as an experiment.
Eventually Tier 3 was imposed on the area, but then a row began over the financial support package Manchester would receive. After Burnham reportedly requested £65m and was offered £60m, the government dramatically lowered its offer to £22m after he refused it. It was all very dramatic.
Over the last week we’ve seen Burham address the media many times. More times, in fact, than most of us have seen him since he exited Westminster politics. Dressed in casual (yet practical) “dad” attire, as the rain drizzled over him, he repeatedly criticised the government’s approach and passionately acted in what he believes are the best interests of the people he serves.
And somehow, it’s all had an unexpected side effect...
Powerful people can become heartthrobs for lots of reasons.
The politics of desire means that sometimes we’re attracted to people who we think might hurt or mistreat us (hence 2019’s thirst-fest over Dominic Raab, a man regarded as incompetent at best and downright cruel at worst).
In the bizarre universe that is 2020, the sudden attraction to Burnham actually makes a bit of sense.
After all, he’s not the first recipient of 15 minutes of thirst during the pandemic. “Dishy” Rishi Sunak had a moment of being a sudden sex symbol, and even Dr Chris Whitty ended up receiving marriage proposals via Twitter. In the US, coronavirus task force leader Dr Antony Fauci became America’s “coronavirus crush” and New York governor Andrew Cuomo was thirsted after too.
So what does this mean?
At one point, all of these corona crushes were seen as a “safe pair of hands”. It felt like they were doing their best. They felt dependable.
And in a year where absolutely nothing seems certain – where birthdays, funerals, weddings, jobs, holidays, memories and loved ones have slipped away – what could be more attractive than dependability?
For the moment, the attraction to men who seem like they’d take a little too long to text back (if they ever do) seems to be wavering. As the world ground to a halt this year, so too did the mystery of not knowing who you’re going to meet on a night out, and of no-strings meets with strangers. And now our eyes have wandered towards people who make us feel like it’s all going to be okay.
Andy Burnham has demonstrated that it’s possible to be firm and authoritative while acting compassionately.
He’s speaking the language of class war, not culture war, and it’s refreshing to listen to a politician “telling it like it is” without blaming immigrants, the EU, or anyone else.
The Burnham of Westminster might have had youth on his side, but he came off like a bit of a wet blanket with too much makeup on. Today’s Andy, however, seems less desperate to be liked and is dressed for battle in a practical anorak.
The Burnham of 2020 would bravely defend your honour just like he’s defending the north in the Game of Thrones political cosplay we currently find ourselves in.
He’d firmly (but politely) say “excuse me mate, there’s a queue” if someone pushed in front of you. He’d never cancel plans at the last minute. In fact, he’d probably text you the day before to confirm. And if you had a problem, you just know he’d be on the other end of the phone giving you good advice on how to fix it.
Like an ex who suddenly becomes much hotter once you’ve broken it off, Burnham is making some serious waves after leaving Westminster – just when Manchester needs a protector the most.
In the 2020 horror show, reliability and decisiveness aren’t just an attractive currency in politics, but in all areas of life. Including, in the case of our boy Andy, who we end up finding hot.
Long may his reign as King of the North (and our thirsty minds) continue.