The other day I caught a tram, it was eleven o’clock in the morning, the tram was full, people shopping, pensioners on a day out into the City, meeting friends for coffee, workers starting a later shift.
So full that some people were having to stand, so I was amazed to see one of the chairs were taken up quite blatantly with two reefers brimming with cannabis being made up. The young guy hadn’t a care in the world as he labour to finish his work, meticulously licking the cigarette papers while people watched, talking to his friend draped over the seats opposite barely able to string a sentence together.
Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked, as they collected their works and got off in the City Centre, meeting someone, they said, in Shudehill.
And then I thought, is this what Manchester has become in the second decade of the twenty-first century? Was this a glimpse of the Manchester that lurks beneath the surface, a Manchester which those in power would prefer to brush under the carpet?
This week, as voters across Greater Manchester go to the polls to elect their council members, there is a chance to change.
Twenty years of growth under a continuous Labour administration. Some will argue it has worked well, Manchester is now Britain’s second city, the centre is unrecognisable, people are investing, jobs are increasing, we have a light rail system that is the envy of the country.
But look behind the surface and the cracks are beginning to show.Those achievements have come at a cost. Two debates have sprung up in the last few months, affordable housing and homelessness.
The former appears to have been sacrificed in favour of allowing investment, much of it foreign-backed, to enable the City to reach that number two position.
We have beggars and homeless on our streets, granted it’s not just a Manchester problem but the City’s success in part explains the increase as Manchester is seen as the place to go to earn a living begging.
Granted part of the issue is a legacy of the post-industrial economy, as the factories shut in the 1970’s and 1980’s but this is almost two generations. Two generations of families that have never worked, where measures of deprivation are among the worst in the country in terms of education, health, housing, poverty and crime.
It is all very well pointing the finger at Central Government, blaming austerity, but over forty years, shouldn’t some of the spoils of the centre of the City have trickled down?
There have been some dissenting voices from those in power, cynics argue that they are sticking their heads above the parapet now only as the local elections loom.
There hasn’t been much democratic discussion, it’s difficult when ninety-five out of ninety-six councillors belong to one party. Any discussion is carried on behind closed doors as we understand but that hardly gives the citizen much guarantee, while those who dare to argue are shouted down, increasingly by the use of social media or dismissed as cranks.
Campaigner Adam Prince summed it up like this for us:
The failures have been so extreme, from affordable housing to directorships and careerist property leaders, the exemptions and cronyism of developers to architects, of developers avoiding their commitments. The political culture is as ugly as much of the new architecture and abandonment of the people.” adding
“It is not a participatory democracy, but one that excludes and abuses all those that do not fit in the tribal sense of sycophancy to the hierarchical leadership.”
This Thursday, if you don’t agree with how things are being run, then you have a chance to change it. It is a unique opportunity, as due to these ward changes, all three council seats in each ward are up for election.
We don’t have a great record in voting in local elections, less than one in four people turn out generally. Our local Politicians rely on us being lazy and voting for the same party, don’t be fooled.
If you keep voting for the same people and the same party you are going to get the same. This is just common sense. If you think Manchester needs change, then vote for change, don’t vote for the status quo.
It is a very worrying election, but an election with great possibilities for the new opposition, a diversity of voices and cooperation. The Liberal Democrats, The Greens, the Independents, and others all have a vital voice to add.
If we can learn to only reward politicians with votes when they do what we want, we will then have true democracy. We need to move away from party loyalty. Just like our insurance or utilities, we should change so we get a better deal otherwise they take us for granted.
If you don’t take responsibility and vote for what you want, then don’t moan when decisions are made you don’t like. So use your vote to influence local issues, your vote has no power to change national issues. If people get the government they deserve: we vote them in, they work for us, if it goes wrong who else is to blame”?