Did Manchester City Council rig the vote on a controversial car park development? Was the Leese administration “rehearsed in private and performed in public”? Twelve guerrillas snapshots from the municipal front line

 

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May 6, 2021. The last whirl of the mayoral election contest, and the steps of the old G-MEX conference centre in mordant mizzle.

In a moment Greater Manchester’s resoundingly re-elected incumbent, Andy Burnham, will venture down them and stride out into the night, free finally of the circus packing up in the hall behind him.

In a single hour since the result was declared – his share of the vote jacked-up to an eye-popping 68%, bucking the trend Labour has experienced nationally and underlining the esteem in which the former minister is held for his stances against Westminster – he has in the eyes of the Twitterati been reborn in the likeness of a future Labour leader and potential prime minister. And he knows it.

From a great chorus of chat groups, message boards and social media platforms the hum now hailing him the Messiah to lead Labour out of the Starmer-ness, win back the North and re-mortar the red wall is a siren call ringing in his ears.

The handsome liberal a la Clinton/ Blair, a little in love with himself, still smarting from his 2015 Labour leadership bid, still locking antlers with the Establishment with the defiant charisma of a Brookside heartthrob…before Burnham, his skinny jeans and his box-fresh Clarks-Wallabees-with-the-tag-still-on can stride out and savour the moment, your man in the press pack has a standard issue question.

“What have you and Labour in Manchester got right that the party, nationally, hasn’t?” I ask, Dictaphone proffered.

Labour gained two seats and lost one to go to ninety-four in the council poll, one of the airport wards going to the Greens.

The smile is easy-going but there’s a ghost of irritation across the eyes. Neither ‘Labour’ nor ‘Manchester’ are big-and-centre in Burnham’s speech cloud, currently…the party branding having been omitted from his campaign literature as a potential vote-loser; the city branding…with his music scene name-checks and Stan Chow profile pics…a political chip he has merely been loaned by the municipality.

The answer he goes with seeks to channel the Tony Wilson quote which the screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce invented for the movie Twenty Four Hour Party People (“This is Manchester; we do things differently here”) which he now mangles – replacing the word ‘things’ with the word ‘politics’ and adding ‘Greater’ before the word ‘Manchester’.

Eyes mutually ensconced, he and I both know it’s appalling.

“Labour here is doing politics differently, as we like to do in Greater Manchester.”

Such is the platform of today’s future Labour prime minister.

“Have you been on a journey to find yourself as mayor?”

“I do admit I could never be myself in Westminster. It was never my world and I always felt I was fitting in with a very London-centric approach to life down there. You probably never saw the real me in that role.

“I think you have seen it, or you are beginning to see it, in this job. I love this place. I love the people here. I’ve got the best job in the best city-region in the world. Who wouldn’t love that?”

You do wonder if he minds having to say ‘city-region’ each time – instead of just ‘city’ – and so being forced thereby to acknowledge the area’s swaggering centre and struggling satellites in one breath.

 

 

The theory circulating this week as to why Manchester remains a cakewalk for Labour, irrespective of what happens anywhere else, is that education is an unheralded indicator of voting preference.

With the largest student population in the country, and the most vibrant culture, media and tech sectors to be found outside the capital, the city subsists on a graduate economy…and graduates vote Labour.

From the hot magma of Manchester’s metropolitan sun, though, the mayor can reach the ice dwarf planets of Bury, Bolton and Wigan along the distance of a hyphen.

Since December, when Stockport withdrew from the city-region’s Spatial Framework – the big ten-borough plan to cure its collective ills by delivering housing, transport and jobs across the county – queasiness over the devolution project has been on the rise.

“Why make Burnham look good?” is how one conspiracy-minded Labour cynic reads the tea leaves – spying among them the machinations of the Conservatives.

“Why build tech parks in Leigh, Bolton North East or Middleton & Heywood only for a load of Labour-voting young professionals to move there and vote out their new Tory MP?”

With recession looming, will Downing Street respond to Burnham’s call to play ball with devolution by kicking his ball into touch?

 

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