'I'd be lying if I said I didn't have aspirations'

Is Andy Burnham heading back to Westminster?

Good morning Millers — welcome to this week’s briefing.

If you missed our weekend read, it was a lovely piece by David Barnett, writing about taking his mum to her vaccination appointment and speaking to some of her neighbours on the street where he grew up.

There’s a nice story about The Mill on Prolific North, asking if this model is “the future of local journalism”. A key quote:

"I think we're going to have a renaissance in local journalism because it's such an important thing, and it's been so depleted in the last decade.”

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The big story: Burnham back to Westminster?

Andy Burnham has never entirely ruled out a return to national politics, but he usually suggests it isn’t likely. “This may well be, and in fact, it’s likely to be, my last job in politics,” he told the New Statesman last year.

Yesterday: At an event organised by Jewish charity Limmud in Manchester, the mayor set tongues wagging by leaving the door a little further open. When asked about whether he still aspires to lead Labour, Burnham said:

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have aspirations. One day, if it became possible, but I'm not sitting here plotting a way to do so. I wouldn't say never.

Adam Callier, the Jewish Telegraph’s scoop-getting reporter, was the one who noted down the remark and tweeted it out. “He was laughing as he recalled his failed attempts, but was pretty straight in his answer about having ambitions to run,” Adam tells us.

  • Here’s how Burnham tried to clarify the remark later… Make of it what you will.

Bottom line: Is Burnham signalling to Labour members and party powerbrokers that he’s up for a third tilt at the leadership if things don’t work out with Keir Starmer? Our guess would be yes. Making this kind of comment in response to a question on a low-profile Zoom conference seems less disloyal than talking about your leadership ambitions on Sky News, but it tells activists they have an alternative leader waiting in the wings.

Mill cartoon by longtime Private Eye contributor Tony Husband. Click here to read our story about vaccine queue skipping, which has now been reported across the national media.

This week’s weather

The location of this forecast is Manchester and it’s sourced from the Met Office.

Covid-19 update

We haven’t seen any dramatic changes in the local picture since last week:

  • Case rates: The GM case rate is falling, albeit much more slowly than the rate across the country — down 11.6% to 240.3 compared to the England rate, which is down 25.5% to 210.8. See the chart below.

  • Hospitals: There’s still more pressure on local ICUs than at any time since last Spring. There were 170 Covid patients in critical care in GM hospitals last week, compared to a peak of 160 in November.

  • Vaccination: Almost one in six people in Greater Manchester have now received their first vaccine shot — 15.6% when the numbers were released last Wednesday, or almost half a million people.

We send out a morning update every day on Twitter, showing the latest case rate in Greater Manchester and nationally.

Home of the week

Lea Gate Farm in Harwood near Bolton includes this Grade ll* listed farmhouse and some other buildings. It’s on the market for £850,000 as a "development opportunity”.

Five stories worth reading

1. The rise of Boohoo

“You walk into the Boohoo offices and you’re looking at their customers,” a retail executive tells the FT in a piece about how the Manchester online retailer has risen from nowhere to the point where it is buying a storied brand like Debenhams. The company hires young staff to design and market its “fast-fashion” wares and listens when they say an outfit isn’t cool, the story says.

2. MMU’s prize-winning author

"I think that the proof will be in the pudding over time,” says the author Monique Roffey, whose novel The Mermaid of Black Conch has just won the prestigious Costa Prize. “A classic is something that's made over decades,” she tells the BBC. Roffey splits her time between her Trinidad birthplace, her east London home and Manchester Metropolitan University, where she is a lecturer.

3. Victims of a sinkhole

“Families in those homes have all faced different challenges, but several of them have a link to Manchester's housing crisis - rising rents and a shortage of family homes that people on lower incomes can afford,” says the MEN, in an interesting feature about the people who had to leave their homes after a sinkhole collapsed houses in Gorton.

4. Handforth drama explained

“The crucial point is if Jackie Weaver can be considered to have been appointed by the council to fulfil the role of proper officer despite not being an employee,” reads this useful explainer of the hilarious Handforth Parish Council meeting that went viral on social media this week. The explainer is by Mill member Ethan Davies, who covers Cheshire as a local democracy reporter.

5. Bolton couple reunited

“A couple in their 80s who have been married for 60 years have had an emotional reunion after being kept apart for almost a year by the coronavirus pandemic,” reports Sky News. Stanley and Mavis Harbour, from Bolton, last spent time together on 20 February 2020, but have been kept apart by the restrictions at Stanley’s care home. "I'm so happy,” says Mavis. “I never want to be away from him again. I feel lost without him."

Mill member Philip Royle took this picture of the Rochdale canal back on Whitworth Street West in the early 1980s.

Things to do this week

Books | On Wednesday, you can listen to Maxine Peake and Christopher Eccleston read from Protest: Stories of Resistance, which is hosted online by Housmans Bookshop and Comma Press, who have joined forces for this event. Tickets here.

Festival | Manchester Science Festival starts on Friday and finishes on Sunday 21 February. It’s got a programme of free online talks, exhibitions, debates and activities that explore our changing climate and ideas for a better world.

  • Highlight: Royal Photographic Society Science Photographer of the Year competition, selected from more than 1,000 entries.

Film | Manchester Film Festival is running from 11 – 14 March and features a great selection of documentary and narrative shorts, including strong North West talent.

  • 3 Minutes of Silence, directed by Ben Price. “Two young girls find hope & friendship in the most unlikely of places, a Moss Side boxing gym.”

  • Arena, directed by Mike Ogden. “In 1943 Poland, six Jewish children murdered by a German housewife. In 2017 Manchester, 23 concert-goers murdered by a student.”

Podcast | We enjoyed listening to Manchester-based Aurelia Magazine’s ‘Close-Up’ Podcast, which offers refreshing perspectives and “gets personal.” Hosted by fresh talent Kya Buller and Amelia Ellis. Listen to the episode ‘Diversifying our bookshelves’ on Spotify.

Valentine’s Day | HOME has curated “an evening to remember with a film pick, dinner recipe and your choice of cocktails to enjoy.” Alternatively, get creative with PopUp Painting, who are inviting you to “embrace your romantic side with luscious golds and Austrian symphonies” with Gustav Klimt's iconic painting The Kiss.

Letters to the editor

Extensive (pre-Covid) travel in other more wooded European countries makes me long for a Northern Forest. However, I remember when teaching just before the millennium we took children to plant trees with the aid of the Woodland Trust. The children had a wonderful day but the site chosen was the Mottram roundabout and the planned copse has never materialised. People must be disappointed when they pass it and recall the high hopes at the time. I hope this latest initiative won't die the way others have done.  Elizabeth Nicholson, Romiley.

Your story about the counter-cultural flourishing at Hulme Crescents was extremely evocative, but I would have liked more attention to be focused on the failure of the blocks as social housing. The original families left because the Crescents were a design disaster, like so many post-war council developments that prioritised “revolutionary” design over the boring things that people actually want. Perhaps that’s a story for another day. Steve Daly, Bury.

I remember both those faces (in your story about Lee Childs) from Granada back in the day when I worked there. I had no idea the one on the left morphed into Lee Childs. I think a lot of us reinvented ourselves from those times. I was also sacked from Granada for protesting but crept back in years later. Hilarious times. Congrats on The Mill. Diane Paul, East Didsbury.

Write in to respond to one of our stories or raise a local issue you think our more-than 10,000 Millers should know about. Just hit reply to this newsletter, and sign off with your name and where you live.

Book of the week

The Abstainer by Ian McGuire 

“In the breadth of its sympathies and its curiosity about detection and surveillance, the novel reminded me of the best police procedurals – The Wire by gaslight,” says the Guardian’s review of Ian McGuire’s The Abstainer. That’s very high praise for a book that tells the story of the violent struggle in Victorian Manchester between Irish nationalists and the police. In 1867, three nationalists were hanged in front of a crowd outside Salford prison. The review takes up the story.

They’d been fitted up for the murder of a police officer shot through the eye two months earlier. Outrage over a terrible crime led to the railroading of these innocent men, and perpetuated a cycle of injustice, martyrdom, radicalisation and terror.

…In an office with the “homely barracks-tang of stewed tea and Navy Cut”, Manchester police brood over the possibility of reprisals. The newly industrialised city is teeming with Irish immigrants, many of whom harbour republican sympathies. 

Obituary: Kirit Pathak

Kirit Pathak was the manager of Patak’s, a highly successful food brand headquartered in Leigh. His parents had set up the business after leaving Kenya in 1956 following the Mau Mau uprising, reportedly with just £5 to their name. At the age of 18, Pathak took over management and developed Patak’s into a £200m company, supplying 90% of Britain's Indian restaurants. Originally selling samosas out of their home kitchen, the family later built a state-of-the-art factory in Leigh. Pathak died in a car crash in Dubai at the age of 68.

The BBC’s obituary explains more:

“The 68-year-old was also responsible for dropping the "h" from the family's name on the firm's labels in an effort to make it easier for English speakers to pronounce. 

Associated British Foods’s George Weston said Mr Pathak, who lived in Bolton before moving to Dubai after the sale of the business to ABF, had been "a great man who was blessed with entrepreneurial flair, astute business acumen and a passion for authentic Indian cuisine".

"[He] and his family revolutionised the way we eat at home and he leaves behind a legacy that not only employs hundreds of people but is enjoyed by millions of homes worldwide every day," he added.

Kirit Pathak, born 12 September 1952, died 23 January 2021.

The Mill in 2021

This year The Mill will go from being an experimental lockdown project run by one person to a news organisation that can serve Greater Manchester for years to come.

We hope to hire our first graduate reporter in the coming months and to expand our brilliant network of freelance writers. We don’t have any investors and we aren’t part of a big media company, so every pound we spend has to be generated ourselves by growing our membership.

137 new members have joined this year so far, and we’re extremely grateful for their support. If you haven’t joined yet, you can do so by clicking the button below.

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