Marc Hudson, writing with his Manchester Climate Monthly hat on, ponders the recent past and the near future of his adopted home.
There are adults reading this who were not born when Richard Leese – after 6 years as deputy leader of Manchester City Council – got the top job in early 1996. Shortly after the IRA exploded an enormous bomb and the city was shaken literally and psychically.
We can look back now and it seems “obvious” that Manchester would thrive. But it wasn’t obvious at the time, and the recovery was by no means assured. The willingness of the City Council, led by Leese, to form close relationships with central government and business elites (a process that had started under Leese’s predecessor, Graham Stringer) has shaped the city. There have been visible winners, and more invisible and invisibilised losers.
Leese’s control has been pretty absolute (to the chagrin of various Labour councillors who have come and gone), and he has never needed to do any cross-party horse-trading that other leaders have had to do. There’s only been one brief period, in early 2010, after he accepted a police caution for common assault, where it seemed it all might end in tears.
But Leese is clearly nearer the end of his period of office than its beginning (or so hope many). And the cracks are beginning to show. Last year’s report into the horrible failures around child protection, Operation Augusta saw murmurings about Leese needing to resign break through.
Three signs of the times outside Crumpsall, Manchester
There have been three intriguing developments over the last two weeks.
Firstly, Leese turned up unexpectedly at the Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee meeting on Tuesday 9th February. This was the meeting where Chloe Jeffries from Climate Emergency Manchester (and, full disclosure, Chloe is a friend and we are both members of the core group of CEM), was presenting the case for a dedicated Scrutiny committee. In July last year, Leese had dismissed it as tokenism. Ever-the-consumate-survivor, now he had, to use a term, changed his tune: or had it changed for him. Marion Smith from CEM made a fine video about this.
Can the new committee’s remit and membership be so tightly controlled as to contain the awkward questions about the Council’s actual policies and actions? Probably (hopefully!) not…
Secondly, a planning application for another skyscraper (see brilliant reporting by Jonathan Schofield in January and also Andrea Sandor in February, in Manchester Confidential) was withdrawn on the day it was supposed to go through. And the nickname for this excrescence? Tombstone. Could you make it up?
And finally, the City Council is now nursing a serious bloody nose, having been defeated in court by Trees Not Cars over a car park on the Great Ancoats Street plot which the Council borrowed serious money to buy. (See Niall Griffiths in the Manchester Evening News).
These three might add up to what the Americans like to call a “nothing burger.” Or they might be indicative – or stitchable-together-afterwards – of the beginning of “the end.. But – and this is my key/final point – what end?
What is to be done?
I know it is difficult (no, seriously, I know as well as anyone, and better than many), but we must not “take this personally. ” We must not imagine that the things we find intensely disappointing and frustrating about Manchester City Council will end when Leese’s reign ends. “Leese-ism”, for want of a better term, will surely prove far more resilient than that.
So, the only way forward is to keep making moves to stay in the game (to quote Keane). To learn, to teach, to sustain our morale. To make common cause where we can.
The city needs a new vision. The inward investment/”sustainability fix” that served well (for some) since the 1990s is played out. New visions are very hard thing and scary things to do, because people who have visions aren’t always visionaries. Sometimes they’re just crackpots. And to quote an infamously cynical and brutal opportunist, Niccolo Machiavelli
“It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.”
On Monday, one of my few heroes, Noam Chomsky, is giving a talk on Democracy, Neoliberalism and Climate Change. I’ve written about that on Climate Emergency Manchester (I am a member of the core group). I’ll end this post with a quote of Chomsky’s that has always made enormous sense to me, and that I’ve tried to use as a guide to how I “do” my citizenship, and how I try to encourage/enable/support/hector other folks to do theirs.