‘The North is not a petri dish’: The Tories once again hang the North out to dry

After a week-long standoff consisting of the government giving Mayor Andy Burnham the cold shoulder, it was announced that Greater Manchester will enter a Tier 3 lockdown as of Friday. Subsequently, the county has been dumped with an insubstantial budget of £22 million- that’s £8 per person per day.

Mayor Andy Burnham said that Manchester required a bare minimum of £65 million to not completely crash, only 5 million more than the government’s initial offer. However, this was apparently deemed to be too much money. Since then, out of what seems like pure spite, the government has withdrawn £38 million from Greater Manchester’s bailout fund, leaving them with a mere £22 million to compensate for the closing of pubs and bars, the furloughing of staff and the needs of a population exceeding 2 million. This comes less than a few weeks after neighbouring county Lancashire received £40 million for a population that’s a million less than the population of Greater Manchester.

How the government can put such a low price on people’s lives truly baffles me. Just a few months ago, the ‘magic money tree’ seemed to have way over £533 million to spend, as exemplified by the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which encouraged the nation to go out, to socialise, to help local businesses and to adapt to ‘the new normal’.

To some people, the new lockdown comes as no surprise: Greater Manchester has had a high R rate since the initial lockdown was lifted. However, it should be noted that the North West has one of the largest poverty rates in the UK, with 32% of children living in poverty and an
unemployment rate of 5%, both higher than the national average. Coronavirus has been proven to disproportionally affect people from these groups and the region has otherwise had no support from the government to bridge this gap. What is more, the government had the opportunity to put Greater Manchester into a lockdown with enough funds to sufficiently protect the businesses and Mancunian workers. They chose not to.

“Boris really said you’re poor, not my problem”

– A Manchester resident

This blatant disregard for the North West showcases Boris Johnson’s continued lazy, appalling and discriminatory attitude towards the North. It still shocks me, even for him. His inability and failure to strike a reasonable deal with Mayor Andy Burnham has exposed him as the awful negotiator that he is. Burnham has rightly accused the Prime Minister of “playing a game of poker with people’s lives”, which is exactly what he is doing after not refusing to provide a safety net for businesses or low-paid workers. Johnson is using the Northern people as his chips in this frivolous and dangerous poker game, cautiously pushing us out in front of him, betting on us, to see if we come back triumphant.

“It feels like a school teacher telling the whole class off, for one kid being naughty”

– A Manchester resident

What is more, the government clearly haven’t even considered the appalling situation for students in Manchester. After what can only be described as conning students back to university cities before subsequently shutting them down, the government’s approach appears to be flirting with imprisonment. All for what? So students can be blamed for the rise in infections, sent to halls for already-rich universities to line their pockets?

Young people are already suffering psychologically and physically from Covid-19-related restrictions. This, doubled with insufficient support for wellbeing and finances, means the impact of this lockdown will be detrimental. But again, Boris has unsurprisingly forgotten about the
thousands of university students that live in and around Greater Manchester and expects them to simply continue being stuck at home, receive sub-standard teaching and remain trapped until at least Christmas.

“Boris is financially starving and destroying the poor, less conservative parts of the country”

– A Manchester University student

Outside of term, I live in Manchester. It’s where I was born and it’s where my family live. I am a proud Mancunian, and son when reading the news yesterday, my heart sank. Knowing those dearest to me are going to suffer at the hands of an inept government who have failed to invest in an effective track and trace system, protect the NHS and look after the most vulnerable fills me with rage.

The title of this article refers to graffiti that was written on the wall of Manchester’s Piccadilly Garden just a few days ago. No, we are not a petri dish. The government can’t test their new systems out on the North, we are not test subjects.

In light of the Brexit negotiations, it’s crystal-clear that Boris is attempting to come across as a ‘tough negotiator’, a ‘no-nonsense’ leader, even if that means quite literally starving out the North of England and failing to consider the long-term impacts this is going to have on some of the poorest
communities in the UK. His dispassionate, vindictive and weak handling of the Manchester lockdown exposes his true character and his goal to economically paralyze the city.

This is not a game Boris, its people’s lives.

Featured image by Joel Goodman via Manchester Evening News.