Ian Morris reflects on the recent impasse between the Government and the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, over moving the region into a tier 3 lockdown.
The pandemic has been a massive strain on everyone: families have lost loved ones and at the most minor of levels we have all suffered some kind of inconvenience. In previous blogs and columns I have covered some elements of the pandemic, the politics of it, and the response to it from the mainstream and social media.
The Dominic Cummings story ran for weeks as the press that despised him for his role in Brexit in my view subtly misreported the story. I believe this sowed enough seeds for the extreme left wing keyboard warriors to convince people on social media that he had done something despicable, and this would lead to widespread civil disobedience and a refusal to follow the rules. Some people are still asserting his culpability for the spread of the virus, when I believe he was guilty of a minor breach worthy of no more than a caution.
A couple of weeks ago, we had the most eye-popping breach of Covid guidelines by SNP MP Margaret Ferrier. She thought she had contracted Covid so went and got herself tested, which is good, but then jumped on a train to London, which is very bad. She discovered she had tested positive, which is very bad indeed, so jumped on a train back to Scotland knowing she was positive, and I am out of badness superlatives.
Fair play to the SNP, they suspended her from the party and first minister Nicola Sturgeon called on Margaret Ferrier to resign as an MP. She hasn’t though, despite being one of the many who vociferously called for Cummings’ resignation when the shoe was on the other foot. Funny that Ms Ferrier now can’t find the word ‘resign’ in her own vocabulary, and is instead still pocketing her MP’s salary. The story flared, and died, and Ferrier was not complicit in Brexit, so the UK press – though not the Scottish media – have more or less let her slink away.
Then over the last week, the doubling-down of party political double standards broke all records.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, and Labour Party poster boy once tipped for the leadership of the party, took feckless and dangerous politicking during a pandemic to new extremes. Greater Manchester isn’t faring too well at the moment, on 20th October the infection rate was touching 400 per 100,000 and rising rapidly. The Government had suggested on the 16th October that Greater Manchester had to move into Tier 3, the toughest of the Government’s lockdown levels. The Mayor of Manchester and several Manchester and Lancashire MPs refused, and then began trying to negotiate with the government for more financial support for the region before these measures were imposed.
Can we just unpack this for a moment? There is now a general consensus that the UK government locked down too late, and had they have locked down sooner then the height of the first wave would have been drastically reduced and fewer lives lost. We know this now, it’s not conjecture but cold, hard fact. When the virus starts to grow exponentially, then lockdown soon.
It seemed Mayor Burnham was saying he wouldn’t impose lockdown unless the Government provided more money. Isn’t this called blackmail, with the citizens of Greater Manchester being used as cannon fodder in this obscene tableau of party politics? A group of councillors in Greater Manchester certainly seem to think so.
Now, you can look at Mr Burnham’s position and absolutely agree with what he is saying. With the furlough scheme coming to an end and the job retention scheme a less generous offer, then this will hit the lowest paid in the hospitality industry, taxi drivers and the like when the local lockdown hits. But what I don’t understand is why Mr Burnham has made the money conditional on adopting the safety measures.
Thankfully the Government has stepped in and will force a local lockdown from this Friday, in theory. I say ‘in theory’ because I believe the Mayor has sent a message to the people of Greater Manchester that the lockdown isn’t essential, that this is being done on a whim by a bunch of ‘southern Conservatives’.
Even if the people of Greater Manchester do comply, how many extra lives will have been lost as a result of this stunt? It’s almost impossible to predict. There is research that suggests had the UK locked down a week earlier than the death toll would have been half what it was.
What was wrong with locking down and lobbying for more money whilst keeping people safe?
The final kicker for me is has the press and social media gone beserk over this man’s actions, which in my view are guaranteed to cost lives? Nope, a couple of murmers, lots of people on social media applauding his standing up to Westminster.
It’s been a mad year so far, but for me this is the maddest story yet. My thoughts are with the people of Greater Manchester.
Something for the Weekend will be back next Friday, tackling national issues from a local perspective. In the meantime, you can check out all of Ian’s writing for S&C, here, along with past editions of the Pompey Politics Podcast.