Today I received a local briefing magazine outlining the broad, and brief, manifesto pledges of the candidates for Greater Manchester Mayor. For most of the candidates barring two, their manifesto went beyond local concern for Greater Manchester and focused in a highly unpleasant way on favouring ‘local people’.
Only 5 of the 8 listed candidates put anything in the briefing paper. These were: Andy Burnham (Lab), Jane Brophy (LD), Stephen Morris (ED), Sean Antsee (Con), Will Patterson (Green). Shneur Odze (UKIP) and Marcus Farmer (Independent) did not appear in the candidate information paper .
I was struck by comments from the English Democrats, Conservatives and Greens emphasising their local credentials, as if being born and raised in G. Manchester somehow counts for something when it comes to running a mayoralty. Even more ludicrous is the thought that growing up in Heaton Moor or Didsbury somehow gives you any insight into Bolton or Rochdale (and vice versa) is just a nonsense.
The only candidates making nothing of local credentials were Andy Burnham (Lab) and Jane Brophy (LD). Though Burnham has been MP for Leigh for some time, it is obvious to all that he was not born and raised in G. Manchester. Brophy has also been a local councillor for several years but chose not to emphasise these apparent credentials. Maybe that is because there is no point playing the ‘I’m a local’ card when there are other, more bona fide, local candidates. Maybe it is because, of all the credentials one might have, being born in a place is of next to no value when implementing transport policies and making spending decisions. Having a Manchester birth certificate is no proof that you’d manage a budget well, after all.
Whilst lots of politicians play the ‘I’m a local’ card, I was even more forcefully struck by the emphasis of some on local jobs/amenities for local people that cropped up among the ED, Green and Conservative candidates. Now, to be fair to the Green candidate his emphasis fell on ‘all Greater Manchester residents’, which is not really an issue, compared to the ED and Conservative emphasis on local jobs and local houses for ‘local people’. They made the point clear by promising that ‘local people are given priority in job vacancies’ (ED) and ‘reserving a proportion of new homes for local people’ (Con).
The problems with these positions ought to be obvious enough. For one, what counts as ‘local’? My wife and I have lived in Greater Manchester for 7 years, are we local now or not? What about my Pakistani and Bangaldeshi friends who have been here 20 years? Are they local or are they still classed as ‘foreigners’ and ‘outsiders’? Is it only those with a birth certificate from a G. Manchester hospital that count? If so, what about those who have moved elsewhere for decades and now want to move back? Does a birth certificate bring them back to the front of the queue?
Then there are the wider issues. What about being from G. Manchester (presuming we can define that adequately) makes one better for a particular job or not? Given that most of the first-generation Pakistanis in Oldham were specifically brought over to help work in the mills, are we now to insist that – having asked them to come – they will forever be at the back of the queue for any job by virtue of their birthplace? Just as at the national level, surely we want the best people in whatever job, not simply the people with the right passports (and/or accent if we’re dealing with the local level).
This sort of approach appears to be the logical end of the sort of nationalism most British people rightly eschew. The English Democrat candidate, for example, promises ‘residents who study in Greater Manchester to become doctors or nurses, and sign up to work for the NHS for a minimum of 5 years, will have their student fees paid for’. Sounds exactly like the current Scottish setup regarding university fees for Scottish students which they pointedly refuse to apply to English students. What makes a Mancunian doctor or nurse any better than a Liverpudlian, Southern or foreign one? I don’t care what accent my doctors or nurses have, nor what university they went to, if they manage to make me well. I want the best care, which may or may not necessarily be care by people born and bred in Manchester.
Stephen Morris (ED) tells us he supports the campaign ‘Local Jobs for Local People’. Sean Anstee (Con) supports ‘reserving a proportion of new homes for local people’, making a great deal of his own local credentials (he apparently grew up in Partington, if you care). Local jobs for local people and new homes for local people makes a scapegoat of those who are not from the area. The issue in Oldham isn’t ‘outsiders’ taking our jobs, it is a lack of job opportunities. Unlike London and Cornwall, Oldham is not exactly a hotbed of holiday home ownership and Russian oligarchs looking for investments in the British housing market. Housing is about as affordable as anywhere in the country. The issue isn’t ‘outsiders’ taking our homes, it is both a lack of homes altogether, a lack of work meaning many can’t get deposits and a lack of wealthy family members able to provide deposits for people.
Andy Burnham (Lab), Jane Brophy (LD) and Will Patterson (Green) are the only candidates offering manifesto pledges who do not seem to subscribe to this rhetoric. Jane Brophy, unfortunately, offers no details on what she will do at all. She pledges to ‘deliver the change we need’ but offers scant detail about any changes she will actually make. She will ‘protect green spaces from development’ and ‘protect our local health service from cuts’. Quite how she will do these things is unclear and protection from development sounds remarkably like no new houses or amenities.
Will Patterson promises to oppose building on green belt land as well as ‘luxury development’ but will encourage the building of affordable, sustainable housing (though he doesn’t say where) and will implement a renters union to defend the rights of private tenants. He will campaign for the Real Living Wage and seek to trial the Basic Income Scheme in G. Manchester. He will also increase transport investment and remove peak fares.
Andy Burnham pledges to create a new Mayoral Homelessness Fund and will kick it off by giving 15% of his own salary on an ongoing basis, whilst seeking further donations. He promises to bring in a ‘scheme to regulate private landlords’ and will also increase housebuilding to offer more affordable homes to buy and rent. Burnham promises to bring in a National Health & Care Service to overhaul the current state of the care system. He pledges to ‘recurit more police officers’ and states he will take a “zero tolerance” approach to hate crimes. Whilst we should all hope for a “zero tolerance” approach to violence (whether in the name of so-called ‘hate’ or otherwise), the definition of ‘hate crimes’ has widened such that even speech others find offensive is included. A “zero tolerance” approach on this basis is terrifying given how things have progressed on this front over the last two decades.
This is the first leaflet I have received on the G. Manchester Mayoral Election. I hope there will be more details in due time. But, based on these short briefings, it is worth noting the narrow and aggressive form of localism that demands special privilege for ‘local people’ (whoever they are). I guess that would be one benefit of voting for Andy Burnham – there can be no suggestion of aggressive and narrow localism. It will surely bring great joy to many knowing that a Scouser is in charge in Greater Manchester.
 Peter Clfiford, listed as Communist League candidate, did not appear in the list of candidates.