Division is so hot right now. Make everyone hate each other and you can pretty much do what you want. While we all watch America burn down, the rest of Europe looks at us sympathetically as we crash out with No Deal. Add to the mix every country shouting at its own Government for not dealing with a global pandemic as well as others’ have – and why not keep going? That’s presumably why the Government has tried to strengthen the North / South divide in England too; it’s not enough for Wales and Scotland to look at us with disdain.
Liverpool was the first city to be placed into Tier Three under the confounding new three-tier coronavirus system, which has been clamped down hardest on the north of the country, with Manchester ordered to follow suit next. But Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, told the Tories to fuck off – I’m paraphrasing – and Boris had to look up from his Eton Mess and deal with him. Is Burnham, who’s been dubbed ‘the King of the North’, our only hope during this omnishambles?
His premise was simple: Manchester requested a minimum of £65million to aid businesses that would have to shut during a Tier Three lockdown. The Government said they’d give them £60million, and Burnham said, “Nah.” Again, I’m paraphrasing.
You have to have some admiration for Burnham, a man who has consistently shown he might not be a Total Piece Of Shit career politician and could actually care about people. His unwavering work for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, gracious defeat when he ran as Labour leader twice (something which now might be more fruitful should he ever want to try again) and campaigns to raise the minimum wage, ban zero hours contracts and incorporate a ‘National Care Service’ into NHS services are all… well, the mark of a good person.
With this unwavering shitshow of a Government, it can sometimes feel at the moment that they’re untouchable. No matter how much they flaunt their own rules – keeping the House of Commons pub open beyond 10pm, unlike every other pub in the country, for example – they get away with it. Who’s going to stop them? Maybe Andy Burnham’s completely reasonable objection is a glint of hope that someone might.
There are signs here that devolvement of power from Westminster in favour of local governments (of which Burnham is, unsurprisingly, an advocate) could help people outside the politcal elite to express themselves. Burnham, a comprehensive (and, yes, Cambridge) educated Labour politician standing up to Westminster, the opposition and a bunch of Etonians is very much the way a lot of us hope things will continue to go.
MPs voted to give themselves a £3,300 annual pay rise last week (who else gets to vote for their own pay rises on the eve of a global recession after doing your job worse than an average donkey?). Yet the Government continues to make a huge catalogue of financial errors every week, handing out contracts to their mates for things that don’t work. Given these facts, you get the sense they could find that extra five million if they needed to. There are 650 UK MPs. If they all donated their pay rise for this year alone, we’d have £2,145,000 to give to Manchester; almost half of the number needed to make it to Burnhan’s minimum figure.
This is the same Government who have admitted to, and defended, paying consultants £7,000 a day to work for the (failing) test and trace system. £10 million was paid out to some 40 (yes, that’s four zero, 10 less than 50) people for this within four months. But they can’t spare extra money to bail out an actual city and its businesses?
Manchester will eventually move into Tier Three restrictions this Friday, and Westminster hasn’t budged on its £60million offer, which Burnham has said “won’t protect the poorest in our communities” – so perhaps this isn’t yet a financial victory for the ‘King of The North’ (it’s all gone a bit Game Of Thrones, hasn’t it?). But it’s a signal for next time. The Tories have tried to win the north over in recent years (and largely succeeded, given that the ‘Red Wall’ crumbled in the last election, when working-class northern voters turned out for Boris). Yet Burnham has exposed this as a hollow gesture. Perhaps they won’t be so flippant if it happens again.
Let’s not forget that when we start feeling divided, it’s not the people that cause this, it’s those in charge telling you you’re different from those in the next city or town or district.
I’m not trying to say that local lockdowns are bad. I’m aware they will be necessary to varying degrees over the coming months. But if this Government continues to pick and choose, so unjustly, who gets cash and who doesn’t, they will hopefully be on the receiving end of a united front from all of us, regardless of our political views. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Andy Burnham handle the next global crisis instead.