Meanwhile, in Manchester, things are getting a bit complicated.
Actually things are always a bit complicated in Manchester, but at the moment they’re a bit more so. For example, here’s roughly how it went on the doorsteps of Moss Side last week.
Me: “Hi, I’m calling from the Labour Party! I’m just out with your local councillors – ”
Resident: “Ah, Roy, Sam, Alistair! I’ve already voted for them! It was weeks ago!”
Me: “Thank-you very much! But now we’re back to talk to you about the by-election. Did you know there’s going to be a by-election in November?”
Me: “Right, well, you know Tony Lloyd?”
Resident: “The MP?”
Me: “Yes. Well, he’s going to be standing to be the Police & Crime Commissioner for all of Greater Manchester. Do you think you’ll be voting for him?”
Me: “Great! So, since he won’t be your MP anymore, Lucy Powell will be standing to be your MP. Do you think you’ll be voting for her as well?”
Resident: “Is she Labour?”
It’s bound to be good news there, of course, and across Manchester Central as a whole. I’d certainly never encourage complacency, certainly not post-Bradford, but Manchester Labour are all working extremely hard, and I’m sufficiently confident of a good result to promise that, if Lucy Powell is not an MP by the end of November, I will wear a onesie to full council.
But even after extremely good council elections back in May, we still have an opposition in Manchester, lingering like a bad smell: namely nine Liberal Democrat councillors (and one independent), and one Liberal Democrat MP.
That MP, John Leech, is important to Manchester’s Lib Dems – he provides them with an office and a base – and, like the government, he increasingly has his eye on 2015. That’s why he comes up with stuff like calling on the council to raise revenue by selling off the art in the city galleries. He’s a Lib Dem in 2012, simultaneously in Government and in isolation, as doomed as a drunk party girl in a horror film: this kind of desperate opportunism is what we’ve come to expect.
What I find a little more telling is the willingness of Government ministers to weigh in. In today’s Manchester Evening News, Sarah Teather is scolding Manchester City Council for not doing enough to create more school places.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we do need more school places – there has been a major surge in demand for primary school places since 2008, particularly in Reception. It’s a national phenomenon, with Manchester the most acutely affected area in the north of England. That’s why 34 primary schools in the city have been expanded since 2008, providing 750 extra Reception places – by the time
these extra Reception places work through the system year on year, more than 5200 extra primary places will have been created. What’s more, we’ve already announced plans to create an £11m new primary at the Abraham Moss centre in Cheetham Hill – the area with the highest number of children currently without a place.
But that’s not enough for Sarah Teather – she wants us to build a brand new school in South Manchester too. Why South Manchester? Well, a cynic might say that this is related to the location of John Leech MP’s constituency.
As Afzal Khan, Manchester’s Executive Member for Children’s Services, pointed out, the last Labour government invested £500m directly in Manchester schools – with that in mind, I’m never going to be inclined to take lessons from the Government who scrapped Building Schools for the Future, has so far assigned a paltry £12.5m to deal with the shortage of places, and is leaving schools to crumble. But I’m even less so when the minister in question appears to be aiming no higher than to appear on a local Lib Dem leaflet, headlined ‘JOHN LEECH DEMANDS A NEW LOCAL SCHOOL’ and featuring a picture of the MP pointing at a place where a school isn’t.
It’s hardly the first time ministers within this Government have acted as though they are still in opposition – Osborne’s response to LIBOR was similarly pointless. But I suspect it’s all going to get old very quickly – and I don’t think anyone’s going to buy it. Back off, Sarah – you need to let the likes of John Leech fight their own battles. Even if you know they’re going to lose.