"Andy Burnham...understands that for many in the UK, Covid-19 is just one of the crises threatening their lives every day."The BMA

Manchester has never had any issue with standing against central government. On 16th August 1819, 60,000 ‘Mancunians’ gathered in peaceful protest for the right to political representation, because the North had barely any, and the workers had none. A cavalry regiment of the British Army charged into the crowd, sabres drawn, and massacred 15 people, including a child. Eventually, the fight for workers' representation was won.

In 1842, Friedrich Engels was sent to Manchester and, inspired by the squalor he saw there, by a city of workers forgotten by the ruling class in the South East, he went on to write a number of significant political works, culminating in his co-authorship of the most influential left-wing text ever written: The Communist Manifesto.

On 10th October 1903, at 62 Nelson Street, Manchester, the Pankhursts held the inaugural meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union. This was the precursor to the suffragette movement, which 25 years later would successfully win voting equality for all women.

On 15th October 2020, Andy Burnham, Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, refused to put the region into Tier 3 lockdown without financial support. It is no surprise to anyone that has lived there that two centuries later, the powers that be still have little time for Greater Manchester, or the North in general – at least not at the cost of their pay rises. Nor is it of any surprise that Manchester is refusing to take this lying down.

There is no doubt that Covid-19 has devastated the world. It is not an issue that has uniquely affected the North of England. But the Tories have spent the last ten years decimating any kind of reserve the North has. Yes, the hospitals are overrun, but in Manchester, critical care beds typically verge on overrun for about a third of the year anyway. The central government hasn't left the budget for ‘business as usual’, let alone for emergencies, and now they have the gall to blame the people whose lives are at risk because of it.  

"What if the pub is the only communal space you have left, after decades of cuts have decimated public commons?"

The Tories' contempt for the North is not limited to Manchester. The closures of the mines by the Thatcher government in the 1980s were disproportionately levied at North Eastern communities, which have been left without resources to rebuild since. 19 of the 20 most deprived regions in England are in the North. In 2010 George Osborne promised that "we are all in this together", a phrase that feels awfully familiar. Yet Barnsley had a 40% budget cut, and Liverpool lost £862 per head. Manchester faced a 37% budget cut, in comparison to Cambridgeshire’s 19%.

Those budget cuts lead directly to overrun hospitals, crowded, unhygienic housing and packed buses. This is how the virus spreads, and so coronavirus is increasingly becoming a class issue. It's easy for those with gardens big enough for barbecues or family estates to rely on in Durham to say "don’t go to the pub" or "don’t visit grandma". But what if Grandma is your childcare? What if the pub is the only communal space you have left, after decades of cuts have decimated public commons?

What the country has witnessed over the last few weeks as Andy Burnham has worked with other local leaders (including Greater Manchester’s sole Tory MP, Graham Brady), has come as no surprise to those who call the North home. Burnham has asked for 80% furlough schemes, and for funding that will allow businesses and individuals to survive another lockdown. He is asking for what Sunak was so heavily praised for providing at the start of the pandemic. He is not asking for this just for Manchester, but for all Tier 3 communities. He is asking for the protection of people’s livelihoods throughout the country.

"The moment to fight for compassion is right now."

Burnham didn’t oppose the variation of lockdown Manchester went into two months ago. He wants to save lives, but unlike those in Westminster, he understands that for many in the UK, Covid-19 is just one of the crises threatening their lives every day. Closing down industries without support mechanisms in place will lead to further homelessness and poverty. Coupled with a government in power that refuses to guarantee food for children over the coming winter, poverty means death. Homelessness means death. Beyond that, it means a loss of humanity for these people; it is a refusal to value their lives beyond a beating heart.


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Manchester will survive this crisis, just as it has survived crises before. The North will stay alive, despite the attempts from London to starve it. It will remember this anger, and it will channel it, as it always has done, into social change. Marcus Rashford, footballer and fellow Mancunian, is currently leading a national effort of exactly this kind of radical compassion, by encouraging thousands of businesses to step in where the government won’t to make sure that no child will go hungry over the upcoming school holidays.

I just hope that the rest of the country can continue to look to the North and realise that the second they stop having something to offer Johnson and his cronies, the Tories will seek to disempower and eventually discard them just as they have Manchester. That the moment to fight for compassion is right now, because no one is safe from their incompetent greed.