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Andy Burnham. Image credit: Financial Times @ Flickr

Annie Dabb: Don’t worry, Andy, Manchester is already the perfect place to grow old

Andy Burnham has pledged to make Manchester “one of the best places in the world” to live.

Greater Manchester has one of the biggest student populations in Europe. With its five higher education institutions, boasting 96,200 reeling students, one may suggest that it’s a crazy idea to encourage the elderly to settle somewhere overcrowded by voracious and overly hormonal youths.

However, considering this pledge in light of the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps it’s not such a far fetched idea after all. 

This last year has seen a population of once youthful and enigmatic 20 somethings grow old prematurely. We’re confined to our couches instead of the clubs. When I settle down on a Saturday night in front of the third Twilight film – a franchise which has proven very divisive in my flat (but objectively, if you’re team Jacob, you are just wrong*) – with my mug of hot chocolate and a stolen corner of my flat mate’s electric blanket, it’s pleasant.

What it’s not, however, is the ‘best days of your life’ experience I’d been led to believe university would provide. At this point, the sparkling vampires on the screen before me seem more real than the LEDs of 42s.  

To make Manchester ‘one of the best places in the world to grow up, get on and grow old’, Burnham arguably doesn’t actually need to do anything. At least where the aged population is concerned. Cups of tea are offered more regularly than glasses of wine. Young people have begun counting lines of crochet instead of coke. Doesn’t Manchester already seems like a pensioner’s paradise? I can vouch for the numerous agreeable parks the elderly may wish to amble through between reruns of Antiques Roadshow. Pretty much all we’ve been allowed to do is socially distanced, slightly frosty walks. For months. 

God bless him, of course none of this confined frustration is actually Burnham’s fault. In October of last year, the man took it upon himself to oppose Bojo’s Covid strategy. The Mayor accused the government of treating Manchester like a “sacrificial lamb” for regional lockdown policies. He advocated instead for a national lockdown in order to combat the currently ongoing pandemic. Here, Labour’s motto “for the many not the few” serves multiple purposes. 

Being from Newcastle myself, I couldn’t agree more with Burnham’s accusations. I was disappointed but certainly not surprised when Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle were essentially left to fend for themselves in tier 3, while London remained in tier 2. Ah, London, that famously underpopulated and safety-conscious city. One that just so happens to be the home of many of the politicians deciding on Covid regulations. Including the Prime Minister himself. Funny that. 

Graffiti on Manchester’s now fallen (well, partly deconstructed) Berlin Wall railing against the North being treated like a ‘Petri dish’ suggested support for Burnham. As well as his conclusion that the government were “willing to sacrifice jobs and businesses here to try and save them elsewhere.”

In fact, unlike the majority of the UK’s politicians, Greater Manchester’s Mayor’s reputation actually improved due to his handling of the pandemic. The Economist even claimed he had “a bigger impact on the government’s Covid policy than any other Labour politician, including Sir Keir Starmer”.

With his new pledge to work towards making Greater Manchester “a region where no person or place is left behind,” Burnham feels like the stable figure the nation needs. Especially after Bojo and his Tory cronies have given us trust issues through their lies about Covid infection rates. Not to mention the commitment issues developed after being forced to go through the worst break up of our lives. By that, I mean our relationship with the European Union. Or the victim-blaming of university students. At this point, I feel like the PM ought to be responsible for an awful lot of therapy invoices. Additionally, a hell of a lot of Ben and Jerrys.  

Furthermore, judging by his track record, Burnham does seem to do good on his promises. Recognising the severity of homelessness and rough sleeping in Manchester, the “Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity’ has so far raised more than £2,000,000 and set up an ‘emergency homelessness Covid-response’ up to a maximum of £10,000 per organization. 

Prime Minister is a very different job role to Mayor. But if we consider that, as the Mayor of London, Johnson succeeded in wasting £43 million on a garden bridge that was never built, and left office with four of London’s boroughs in the top 10 of the Uk’s poorest boroughs, in comparison I would say Burnham could be doing a lot worse. 

* And in honour of ‘The Guilty Feminist’: I’m a feminist. But Bella Swan is absolutely responsible for literally every single problem. This includes the mass war between the world’s most dangerous predators. Life would just be easier if she didn’t exist.

Tags: andy burnham, Boris Johnson, government opposition, Mayor of Greater Manchester, retirement

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