As the first city of the world Manchester kept on growing and eating up surrounding areas right up to the 1930s. Recently Lancashire has been dropped and now Greater Manchester is the area of choice. Such is the power of Manchester its expansion is devouring all before it. As it grows in an area of de-industrialised north, small local villages and towns have amalgamated into Manchester, thus creating a council with nearly one hundred seats up for grabs every election.
And every election, as night follows day, only one political party is elected time and time again. That party has lorded over Manchester with impunity. Absolutely no counter-political party could ever be elected. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? As a resident and committed Labour member it should be not only a good thing but a great thing. The stuff of dreams for a life-long Labour party supporter. It's not until you realise that a rosette and a social party are made up of more than just ideals; it's also made up of people with agendas. Those agendas have become very skewed from the what I call the Labour party ideals.
Take for example the recent local referendum on whether to elect a mayor for Greater Manchester. After much debate and door knocking by individuals wanting to become the mayor, all the residents absolutely rejected the idea of an elected mayor - that was the will of the people. The choice was made. The decision was cast iron. NO! Roll forward a few years on and Liverpool and Salford have chosen to have elected mayors. So when a Tory government that has no MPs in Manchester decides you need to be more like Liverpool and Salford and have a mayor, every resident thought the Labour council would object and kick up a fuss. What the residents got instead was George Osborne handing over control of the Manchester budget to them in exchange. What the government did next was extraordinary. They took the ex-Labour police commissioner and installed him as mayor and placed him on £250,000 a year. And all this without even so much as an election.
If you ever wanted a freedom of information enquiry Manchester city council is possible the most difficult council to enquire on. The Liberal Democrats found this out, and after much stalling they got an astonishing answer to a very simple question. “How much is spent on outsourced staff by Manchester council?”
The city spent an average of £14m a year on agency workers between 2007 and 2012, according to data supplied to the Liberal Democrats. That’s £70 million and counting. From a council that is supposed to be socialist at heart, it has surprisingly very Tory leanings when it comes to spending people’s money. At a time when the council is laying thousands of workers off and imposing harmful cuts on Manchester communities, it is hugely wasteful to be spending millions on agency staff when permanent employees would keep the city running more effectively. Channel 4’s Dispatches investigated the council and have shone a light on utterly bizarre relationship Manchester council has.
This is the stuff Donald trump is accused of with Russia. The relationship between the Manchester council and China In a meeting it was stated (so the minutes say) that the Dali Lama is evil and no officials from Manchester council should meet him. Just how have we got a foreign country telling Manchester council it's policy on any affair? Is the answer something to do with money, and a lot of it?
Imagine if we had the same relationship with countries such as Iran who, by the standards of the Middle East, are a democracy (unlike China), there would be uproar from all over the world. When Conservative ministers says it’s a corrupt state of affairs then there has to be questions raised! Adam Prince, from Manchester Shield, a local leftwing-leaning activist group, says: "the reason I set up the movement last year was because of all the difficulties I and other campaigners had against the ruling party. It is very disappointing when I, as a would-be Labour voter, witness bad behaviour, vested interests, cronyism, nepotism and the intimidation everyday citizens have faced from that dynasty. It made me belligerent and determined to push back against what people are beginning to see as toxic.”
It seems to me that this arrogance and entitlement for power and the old tribalistic labels have nothing to do with the realities of policy and politics in this city. There are far too many vested interests and far too much careerism, which makes the whole field disingenuous. It is not just Manchester Shield that is finding this problem, but I am often told, on and off the record, that so many campaigners, groups and agencies feel there is a sense of monopoly, inflexibility, contempt for citizens, and a real sense that people are not important in ‘their’ Manchester.
There is a need and a purpose to go beyond the old politics and our current realities. Everyday people do count, and engagement has to be more than election rhetoric and false promises. There is something very dark, and a lack of imagination, at the very heart of Manchester council.
Alim Haider for Political Provocateur