Graffiti in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester Graffiti in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester

Manchester continues to resist Tory plans for an ineffective local lockdown with inadequate financial support, reports Chris Neville

Greater Manchester’s battle against Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions continued on Monday as negotiations between the government and Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham were reported to be in a stalemate.

The dispute arose last week as the government sought to impose additional restrictions on Northern regions. One of the main areas of disagreement is around the financial support that will be offered to workers and businesses. Burnham has made the case that the regional restrictions are having little effect on the spread of the virus.

This is a compelling argument as Greater Manchester, along with other parts of the North, has been the subject of additional local measures for months, which have done little to stop the infection rate rising in and around the county. Labour has recently called for a ‘circuit-breaker’ national lockdown, which would surely prove more effective, if only for a limited time. The lack of a fully functional test and trace remains a huge issue but the government seems to care more about ensuring the system is in the hands of a private contractor.

Burnham, to his credit, is rightly calling for the return of 80% furlough pay for any workers who will be unable to work as a result of additional restrictions, along with 80% support for the self-employed and compensation for businesses.

An unlikely alliance has formed as local Conservative Party politicians, many newly elected, have sided with Burnham. The most high-profile of these, Sale and Altrincham West MP and Chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady has denounced Boris Johnson as ‘ruling by decree’. Brady’s analysis of the situation is undoubtedly a result of his libertarian leanings but at this moment presents additional problems for Boris Johnson and purse-string clutching, Rishi Sunak.

There feels to be near-unanimous support from the people of Greater Manchester for Burnham and against the government. Last week, the wall in Piccadilly Gardens was the subject of graffiti stating ‘The North is not a petri dish’. A banner hung from a motorway bridge read ‘End London rule. Northern republic now’. With the government constantly changing its local approach, imposing ineffective restrictions on northern regions that reduce the income of working people, the frustration and anger is building.

Burnham is showing what can happen when a politician stands up for the people they are elected to represent. He has mass support and attempts to go against that are already reflecting badly on the government. The demands he is making are entirely reasonable and expose how little this Tory government cares for the suffering and hardship people are being forced to endure in order to combat the coronavirus.

Of course, the left in Manchester does not forget Burnham’s history. We remember his threats to call the police when workers on Regent Road downed tools after not being paid last year. We are critical of his failures on promises around housing and homelessness in Greater Manchester. But in this instance, he is channeling a popular mood for resistance and deserves our support.

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