Today Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, has spoken out against government plans to increase lockdown restrictions to ‘Tier 3’ across Greater Manchester, saying Ministers “are willing to sacrifice jobs and businesses here to try and save them elsewhere”.
It should be said first and foremost that any measures that help people to survive and stay safe are a good thing, and no amount of economic damage can justify sacrificing the health and safety of our communities to protect the profits of private business. But this does not mean that any and every policy that the government in London thinks up should be supported, or even accepted.
In fact, using the northern working class as a barrier to Covid is exactly what the government is now doing. The consensus of the medical community (even the government’s own medical advisors) is that another national lockdown is the only way to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed and the virus spreading exponentially. Imposing partial lockdowns in heavily localised areas of the country is not considered to be particularly effective. The fact that this second spike in the spread of the virus comes weeks after local lockdowns were first started seems to support this. People are still travelling, and the varying names, places and enforcement of policies are making following the rules (or even just knowing what they are) harder than ever.
All this could be overlooked though. After all, slow progress or even no progress is better than allowing the virus free reign, and if these measures were being imposed on everyone in an effort to stop the virus spreading with the right level of support for workers and services, then we would and should support them. This is not what is happening.
The government in London is using the imposition of restrictions on areas that are poor and on communities that are vulnerable because the Tories know they can afford to do it here. The north is not their friend, it never has been. They are hoping to change the national picture by imposing harsh restrictions on areas where they can afford to be unpopular, whilst ignoring the problems in areas where they have financial or political support. Their support base is not being impacted by the virus in the way working class people are. The wealth of the super-rich has skyrocketed this year as businesses profit from reduced payrolls and inflated online and food shopping. These people are mostly not in Manchester and if they are, they are in a position to isolate themselves for an unlimited amount of time with no financial worries at all. Not so for the shop worker, the cleaners, the education workers and all the other working class people of Manchester who have to attend work and risk the virus, or else face financial ruin.
The Conservative’s ridiculous slogan “The Northern Powerhouse” is now being shown as the empty posturing it always was. They are going to throw the people of Manchester under the bus by imposing a lockdown with absolutely no financial or structural support for the working class people who’s lives are going to be turned upside down; and all for a set of restrictions that might not even work!
Andy Burnham is far from a perfect mayor. There are many valid criticisms of both him specifically and the Labour council generally. But he is right to reject the London-centric, anti-northern policies of the conservative government. They are not doing this to keep us safe, they are doing this here so they don’t have to do it in the south. The working class communities of Manchester are being used as meat shields against the economic impacts of the virus, so that the profits of big business and the comforts of Tory heartlands can be preserved.