Features

Manchester isn’t oppressed, Andy Burnham – it’s wildly overrated

28 May 2016

9:00 AM

28 May 2016

9:00 AM

‘The shortest way out of Manchester,’ it used to be said, ‘is notoriously a bottle of Gordon’s gin.’ But that was a long time ago, when ‘Cottonopolis’ was the pivot of the Industrial Revolution, the British empire was expanding and life was cheaper. They tend not to drink gin any more in the bars on Deansgate. It’s cocktails, a tenner a pop. The hub of George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is a much-changed city.

Now they’re queuing to get in, even though the super-duper HS2 rail link may go no further than Crewe, which is in Cheshire, and only southerners think Cheshire is in the north. Andy Burnham is the latest chap to set his cloth cap at the rainy city. The MP for Leigh, more often associated with Liverpool on account of his choreographed support for Everton FC, wants to be mayor of Greater Manchester. My word he does. Westminster ignores us, was the gist of his opening salvo to Mancunians last week, and he has plenty of powder left to fire up a few more cannons.

‘It’s hard growing up in the north,’ says Burnham, as though he had felt Squeers’s rod at Dotheboys Hall. ‘If you say you want to be a doctor, lawyer or MP you get the mickey taken out of you.’ No you don’t, you chump. You stand on the same ground as others in the east, the west and the south.

They have schools in Manchester, as the mayor presumptive may soon find out. The Manchester Grammar School is garlanded with honours. There’s a fine university, too, which has supplied 25 Nobel laureates,  including Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr. There’s a major airport, which brings in many of the city’s 350,000 students.

Has Manchester ever been more fashionable? Not even when Rolls met Royce in 1904, around the time that the Hallé Orchestra lured Hans Richter away from Vienna to conduct them at the old Free Trade Hall, nor even when Denis Law and George Best joined forces with Bobby Charlton at Old Trafford 60 years later to give English football its starriest cast, has the old city seemed so alluring to outsiders. When the football returns in August, the city’s clubs, one the richest in the world, the other among the most famous, will be led by Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho, who have managed the greatest teams in the world. So much for Burnham’s ‘uneven distribution of resources’.

In other ways, of course, there has been an uneven distribution. The trouble is that Manchester is a city that has, in truth, become too fond of itself. Mancunians used to laugh at the chippy folk 30 miles to the west, but now there is hardly a fag-paper between Manchester and Liverpool when it comes to self-congratulation.


‘The musical capital of the world’, Burnham called it, with a confidence bound to raise titters in Berlin, Paris and (whisper it) London. But that is how Manchester likes to present itself these days, at the heart of a booming ‘youth culture’ in which pop is the greatest boon of all. The thing about pop culture, however, as he would do well to bear in mind, is that it has a built-in obsolescence. For Burnham to tell the world that he likes the Smiths, who split up three decades ago, is like Harold Wilson telling voters in 1964 that he enjoyed tapping his feet to the Andrews Sisters. It makes a chap look ridiculous.

And Burnham does sound ridiculous when he talks down the career opportunities of northern people. Nobody lives in mud huts, not even in Leigh. Lancastrians and Yorkies have not been shy about getting on in society, even if their idea of society does not correspond to the one in Kensington and Chelsea.

A fair crack of the whip? People living in other parts of the kingdom may think that northerners own the whip like a lion–tamer. Think of the comedians who have come from Manchester and other parts of the red-rose county: George Formby, Frank Randle, Al Read, Gracie Fields, Eric Morecambe, Les Dawson, Bernard Manning, Steve Coogan, Peter Kay, and Victoria Wood. And that’s before we get to the chippy city on the Mersey, which contributes a chapter of its own.

Light entertainment on the box has been shaped by northern types and stereotypes: Shameless, The Royle Family, Phoenix Nights, Dinnerladies. The plays of Alan Bennett, Alan Plater, Colin Welland, Alan Bleasdale and Jimmy McGovern. Actors by the lorryload. It isn’t possible, if you have a television or a radio, to avoid Maxine Peake of Bolton, so heavily has she been promoted as Everywoman. She’s a fine actor, but there is no law that states she has to be in everything.

The news is reported and interpreted by northerners like Nick Robinson and Michael Crick. Indeed old Cricky has rediscovered his flatter northern tones since he left the BBC for Channel 4, so he slips in and out of character like a ventriloquist. Stuart Maconie, Owen Jones and Paul Mason have all enjoyed prosperous media careers by providing a northern perspective.

Paul Morley, one of those ‘cultural commentators’ beloved of lazy arts producers, actually wrote a book called The North three years ago. It was essentially a memoir about pop music and football, so it is one for Burnham when he lowers his lamp. For others, eager to learn something about the north that existed until 40 years ago, a north that may still be found if you are prepared to ignore the well-trodden path, it does not make essential reading.

Of course there is a separation, even a division, between north and south. The history and geography of our island, like the history and geography of all nations, means there must be. But it is not right to think of Manchester in terms of Munich or Hamburg, great cities in a truly federal nation. German differences, of speech, custom and dress, are far wider than our petty regional variations.

There are other differences in England that predate the Industrial Revolution. The cultural divide between east and west, based on Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Norman influences, is no less important than north and south; and just as interesting. The music of Vaughan Williams of Gloucestershire, Elgar of Worcestershire, and Britten of Suffolk, speaks to English people with a profundity and a sense of place that the battalions of popular culture will never diminish.

You may find that sense of place, as opposed to the thin regional identities so dear to mayoral candidates, in the poetry of Hardy, Housman and Larkin. Burnham, who read English at Cambridge, surely knows as much. There is such a thing as the soul of a nation, and it is more often to be found in places like Wenlock Edge than Moss Side.

So rise up, all you good folk in Norfolk and Dorset, Shropshire and Cornwall, and demand to see your lives represented as fully as those lippy, put-upon northerners. Every day, in every way, there are thousands of tales waiting to be heard.

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Show comments
  • Father Todd Unctious

    I lived in Manchester for four years in the early nineties. Stone Roses, the Hacienda and the Curry mile apart I couldn’t wait to leave.
    Run down , violent, too much litter, petty crime, poor schools, drugs, poverty and that annoying soccer club in Salford.

    • ChrisW17

      And i was there in the late 70’s and it was worse!

      • Father Todd Unctious

        Drove into a car park in Ordsall in 1990. The only other car in there was on fire.

        • Suzy61

          🙂 .. even as a Mancunian, I have to laugh 🙂 😉

        • Ilikemagic

          Ordsall isn’t in Manchester, and I suspect your post is accurate as your geography. What Ordsall is however is one of the most deprived places in the UK, and there is nothing you will see in Ordsall that you won’t see on other similar places in any other UK city.

          • Father Todd Unctious

            No, but Miles Platting is. In 1990 Miles Platting was like Aleppo.

    • alberto

      ‘soccer’?

      • Father Todd Unctious

        Soccer. The usual abbreviation for the game of Association football. Like Rugger ,for Rugby football. Or Aussie rules……
        The red team are a soccer team aren’t they?

    • Suzy61

      Salford?

      No, it is in Trafford .. and I believe they play football.

      I don’t entirely disagree with what you say but show me a city not suffering from the same problems.

      • Father Todd Unctious

        It is on the edge of the borough of Trafford but in the historic hundred of Salford.

        • Suzy61

          Maybe they should rename it ‘Old Salford’? 🙂

          • Father Todd Unctious

            Given the support base, Old Hong Kong or Old Dubai might be better.

          • Suzy61

            Well, I can claim that it is my local team and I concede many cannot but is that a bad thing? I am proud that the English Premier League is considered the best in the world, be it Manchester United or Chelsea or Liverpool. If it inspires young men, from wherever in the world, what is the harm?

        • Ilikemagic

          It’s in the Metroplitan Borough of Trafford, not the city of Salford, the words ‘Old Trafford’ being the hint to the not very bright.

      • Father Todd Unctious

        Wells. Canterbury. York. Ely. Truro. Bangor. Norwich. Winchester. Chester. Cambridge. Lichfield.

        • Jamie200

          Apples and oranges, apples and oranges..

          • Father Todd Unctious

            A fruity retort.

  • john

    Britain is a colonial country with the overlords in W1 calling the shots and the proles in’t North docilely accepting their diminished role.

  • John

    Liverpool 30 miles from Manchester is a far more attractive city for sure. It is the most popular stop on the the round Britain cruises. Manchester has an obsession with their commercial deep water neighbour, despite having HMG favouritism. The BBC was taken to Manchester, with Liverpool having more attractive sites not even able to give an offer. HS2 is being taken directly to Manchester while not one nut & bolt of HS2 will be within 20 miles of Liverpool, despite Liverpool needing the extra rail lines to cope with 100% expansion of rail freight from its expanding port, of which Manchester industry will benefit.

    Manchester is no 2nd tier world-city like Milan, Barcelona or Munich, which Liverpool once was. It is a 3rd tier city. A British provincial city – an ex mill town. The problem with Manchester is that they believe their own propaganda. They need a reality check.

    • lurv & compassion

      A decade on and the Chinese are still not buying Wirral Waters, they are investing in M/C. Turn Liverpool into a port for freight trains, build your estuary airport in the middle of nowhere by 2150 (hahaha) and level the rest. There wouldn’t be any love lost would there.

      • John

        There not be any love lost from Manchester for sure. The city has a fixation with Liverpool. Sneering Liverpool is the city pastime. They do themselves no favours by doing so. I know lost of people from London who have gone to Manchester and come back totally underwhelmed and cannot see what the fuss is about.

        • Jambo25

          Actually, although I’m Edinburgh through and through I lived in Manchester for 4 years and I hate to tell you this but the fixation with Scouse v Manc rivalry (football aside) is all one way and that’s coming from Liverpool. Its very similar to the Glasgow v Edinburgh position which appears to be something which a number of Weegies care about but means SFA to people in Edinburgh (Once more, football aside.).

          • John

            I totally disagree. Although Liverpool has every right to complain about the favouritism of HMG funds being directed to Manchester over Liverpool. Two glaring examples of Whitehall putting two fingers up at Liverpool are:

            a) Omitting the city from HS2 while Liverpool with its port expansion is the prime city needing HS2 – the only major city to be omitted.
            b) Failing to complete its metro after 40 years of waiting – the tunnels & trackbeds are there awaiting tracks.

            Manchester has nothing Liverpool wants. Left to the free market Liverpool will always rise over Manchester. Commercial deep water cities always do. The city was actually richer than London at one point.

          • Jambo25

            Left to the free market Liverpool will collapse. The economic geography and skill sets of the population are all wrong. The trans Atlantic and general oceanic trade has pretty much gone as has the industrial hinterland the port served. If the city wants to become a hi tech and high end services hub it simply doesn’t have high enough educational and skill levels. The cities that fill that niche are already there. Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol (To a certain extent) and my own city of Edinburgh. Edinburgh has a workforce that is coming up 60% graduate and many of them STEM graduates.

          • John

            The free market made Liverpool. HMG interference made the city decline. Liverpool’s population is well educated. The city has three universities. Four if you include Edge Hill uni. The city well represented by leading edge technologies. The School of Tropical medicine is the best in the world, who linked malaria with mosquitoes.

            You must stop making things up.

          • Ilikemagic

            Jambo25 is 100% correct. I live in Manchester and it is incredibly narcissistic. It truly isn’t interested in any city except Manchester. There is a vague recollection of somewhere called London and that is about it.
            I’m glad you are impressed by the Liverpool 2 deep water port project. It’s being developed by Manchester based Peel. Think of it as a gift from us, and you are welcome 🙂

          • John

            Liverpool2 was planned by Peel’s predecessors. It has taken them an eternity to do something. In fact its is about the only thing they have done in Liverpool. Peel, a land company, have a habit of filling in Liverpool’s docks to create lucrative land. These deep water berths may be needed in the future as then port expands. When they are, they will not be there. The city cannot stop them as Wirral BC could not stop the filling of Bidston Dock.

            My experience with Mancunians is that they ARE, and have been, overly concerned with Liverpool – they even built a white elephant of a port 46 miles from the sea to be a Liverpool wannalike. They also think their city is some sort of Barcelona, such delusion is so deeply ingrained.

          • John

            There was great jubilation and sneering of Liverpool from Mancunians when Liverpool was omitted from HS2.

        • Suzy61

          Honestly, I believe the rivalry you speak of is really just banter. Mancunians don’t sneer at Scousers – not in my experience.

          You seem a bit ‘chippy’ John. I can understand why you think Manchester is favoured over Liverpool but you should aim your anger at the politicians – not the everyday Mancs who have no grudge to bear.

        • Give our God Immortal Praise

          Give it a rest, sonny, you doth protest too much. Yawn.

          • John

            Yawn.

    • Jambo25

      Talk about chippy Scousers. There is a reason why Osborne and others are placing bets on Manchester and not Liverpool and its quite simple really. If Liverpool didn’t exist, nobody would even think of inventing it.

      • John

        Liverpool is the only location on that coast that accommodates a deep water port. The next north is the Clyde and the next south is Mildford Haven. If Liverpool did not exist the towns the east of Liverpool would not exist and the area would be like the Lakes to the north and Cheshire to the south. Rural.

        Osborn’s seat is just outside Manchester. Has the penny dropped?

        • Jambo25

          It is economically redundant as it grew and prospered on a trans-Atlantic trade which has either greatly diminished and/or is being handled elsewhere. It is the same process which led to the major economic problems faced by West Central Scotland, particularly Glasgow. Glasgow, despite its many social and economic problems appears to have re-invented itself rather better than Liverpool. Glasgow’s GVA and GVA growth is much better than Liverpool’s (and Manchester’s as well). During the period 2009-2014 Liverpool was about the worst performing large British city.

          • John

            You are wrong. Liverpool performed quite well after the 2008 crash and still is fine in the circumstances despite not even on the map of HMG.

            In the 1970s one third of the Liverpool’s partially underground metro, Merseyrail, was abandoned after work had started. About 4.5 miles of tunnel and miles and miles of trackbed are awaiting trains. In the meantime London has had a completely new metro built, the Docklands Light Railway, the Overground, Thameslink and Crossrail built. Manchester has had the comprehensive Metrolink tram network built. Liverpool’s traffic levels and pollution has risen substantially. Liverpool only want finished what was started 40 years ago which will alleviate the road and traffic problems and push the city forward. Yet the city is the most expandable in the UK with radiating boulevards and a footprint larger than Paris. The city is not even on the radar of HMG.

            Within months the new Liverpool2 post-Panamax container terminal will be operational – a private venture. This doubles the port’s container capacity, accepting the world’s largest ships. Mearsk, the largest line in the world, moved its UK offices from London to Liverpool. This port is vital to all the North West, West Yorkshire and beyond, keeping transport costs down and polluting trucks off the UK roads. Fifty years ago about 10 rail lines entering the port now only one does. If this line is out of action for any reason, the port is crippled. Liverpool needs extra rail lines into the port. Power stations are moving over to biomass pellets from North America with Liverpool building large quayside silos to store the biomass, which also needs very long trains. This where HS2 and HS3 is essential to run into Liverpool to alleviate the existing lines

            The city has to beg to get anything vital done. HMG never doe the city any favours. Jumbo25, It is best you do some research before typing.

          • Jambo25

            Economically it hasn’t done all that well in comparison to other cities in the UK according to official statistics.

          • John

            In 2014, The City Region increased jobs by 2.5%.
            Since 2009, Liverpool has seen relatively large growth in private sector employment but the gains have been mostly cancelled by equally large decreases in the public sector. HMG money to diverted to places like Manchester.
            between 1998 and 2013. Liverpool’s city growth rate was 13.5%. Core Cities average, 13.0% with the GB growth rate of 13.4%.
            Earnings in Liverpool are slightly below the GB average but greater than the Core Cities average
            Between 2002 and 2015, Liverpool’s 47% growth in resident earnings was significantly higher than the Core Cities (38%) and Great Britain (36%) averages. Growth in worker earnings was also strong in Liverpool (42%) compared with Core Cities (39%) and GB (36%).
            Liverpool from 1997-2014 the GVA growth was very strong growing by 102.9%, which is just below the UK 104.3%, but above the Core Cities of 96.7%.

            You are trying to make out the city is some sort of basket case which is complete nonsense.
            The city’s cruise business is about to take off, along with commercial port activities.

        • Suzy61

          Osborne’s seat is in Cheshire – they may as well be 100 miles apart.

          • John

            Osborn’s seat is just outside Manchester. Has the penny dropped?

          • John

            Osborne is just outside Manchester. Look at a map.

  • Mordechai Harris

    I am being pedantic but the picture at the start of the article shows two cities not just Manchester. The Irwell is in the middle, somewhere called Manchester on the left and the great city of Salford on the right.

  • ThePrisoner1967

    I live just outside Manchester and I always have. There’s nice places to be found down there for sure, but blimey, it isn’t half dumpy these days.

    • Suzy61

      Same here.

      I still love her, though.

  • MummyofPrudence

    I went to Leigh a couple of weeks ago, looking at replacing our organ, the unit I visited was on a council estate, but it was fairly pleasant, well kept. There were some scruffy old terrace properties a few sreets away and some nice Edwardian, suburban, tree lined streets. It wasn’t grim, just the usual mixture. The fish and chips weren’t fried in dripping, which was a shame, but the organ dealer was as funny as any of the famous Lancashire comedians you mention – apparently when he told his mother he was getting married she said to his then girlfriend “if yer tekkin ‘im, yer tekkin’ ‘ pianner” ( only I think I’ve written that in broad Yorkshire, rather than Mancunian.)

    • Suzy61

      The accent in Leigh is more akin to Wigan than Manchester – so you are not far off.

      • Father Todd Unctious

        Yes. West Manchester goes more scouse, East Manchester goes more Yorkshire.

  • Bill Brinsmead

    Remember the very angry, and very effective, caged guard dogs encountered in mid 1990s at an airport car park in Wythenshawe. Airport is now cool, even owns Stanstead.

    • Suzy61

      Most gardens in Wythenshawe have those dogs! 🙂

      • Father Todd Unctious

        On Regent Road in Salford there was a flat roofed pub with alsatians patrolling on the roof.

        • Suzy61

          Mmm.. I think I know the pub!

          Demolished now, but quite notorious in the day.

          • Father Todd Unctious

            Saw a bloke there hit another with pool balls in a sock. Thought it only happened in movies.

  • evad666

    Liverpool, Tyneside, Hull and Manchester need to cooperate to smash the Hegemony of London and the South East..
    We need High Speed Rail to join the ports of Liverpool with Tyneside and Hull. with access to as many northern Cities and airports as possible in between.
    Nothing less is acceptable.

    • Steve Challenger

      The last thing the good people of Yorkshire need is a fast link to the slum dwellers of Lancashire. The Pennines are there for a reason.

      • Wynne Matt

        pipe down you crank.

    • Wynne Matt

      bang on sir.

  • Robert Wright

    Burnham will have to be a darn sight more approachable in his mayoral role (if he ever gets the job) than he was in his days as Labour’s Health Secretary. Invited by a BBC TV documentary crew to comment on the oddity of the then upcoming London Olympics being sponsored by MacDonalds and CocaCola, Burnham was “too busy” to meet in his Westminster office but promised nevertheless to go on camera. He didn’t. Eventually vanishing from his too-busy ministerial life in London, Burnham was tracked down by that same camera crew to his Leigh constituency, where he was so. . . busy hopping from one street to another and from one building to another as to give every appearance of being a man on the run. Burnham’s hide-and-seek was felicitously chronicled and subsequently screened by the BBC. I wish I still had the video though then again, who knows? It might just re-surface during the mayoral campaign.

  • SonOfaGun

    Manchester and Liverpool are too catholic for me, and too leery. I imagine it’s due to past Irish economic migration.

    • Father Todd Unctious

      How catholic is catholic enough? Liverpool is about 40% catholic, Manchester about 20%. The rest of the UK excluding N Ireland about 9%.

  • Freddythreepwood

    Burnham likes the Smiths. Why am I not surprised?

    • Father Todd Unctious

      Who doesn’t like The Smiths? Johnny Marr is the King of janglepop.

  • John M

    It says a lot about Burnham’s disconnection from the reality that the rest of us inhabit that he even thinks that he – a Liverpudlian – will ever be accepted by Mancunians as Mayor.

    But Terry Christian, he of C4’s The Word, Mancunian and modern day philospher, put it best on the Today Show. He said “I find it amazing that someone without either the talent or charisma to even be able to beat Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party, could consider himself worthy of being Mayor of Manchester…”

    • John

      Burnham was born in Liverpool and left when a baby and brought up in Newton-le-Willows. half way between the two cities. He represents Leigh in Gtr Manchester.

  • skalramd

    Random list of things/people Manchester/Mancunians have put on the national/world stage. As usual what’s missing is a sense of proportion and the fact that you have to work harder to have the impact that less oppressed areas/peoples have handed to them. Lived in Manchester 25 years ago, long enough to know the real chip on the shoulder was about London (Poll Tax times), and Liverpool was hardly ever an issue (even when Liverpool FC was in its prime). Been gone long enough to not know/care about Mr Burnham.

  • themanwhocan

    Why do they need a mayor again?

    • John

      It a metro Mayor that covers all Gtr Manchester, like London’s mayor. Liverpool City Region is having a metro mayor too. LCR covers Merseyside and other towns.

  • John

    If Manchester was a big important city the port would still be used. The ports is closed down. The ship canal is still there. If the three locks were widened modern flat bottomed ships of about 50,000 tons could reach Manchester. Manchester is 46 miles from the sea. Hamburg is 68 miles from the sea navigable via a dredged river, and is one of Europe’s largest ports.

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