‘I’m going insane’: My afternoon at Manchester’s anti-woke meetup
Upstairs at a city centre pub, a group of people who worry about being ‘cancelled’ for their heretical views get together to put the world to rights
Dear readers — where would you go in town if you wanted to spend your Saturday afternoon listening to a “mini-lesson” about the breakdown of the traditional family, the “decolonisation” of the school curriculum and the general decay of Western values?
The answer, it turns out, is the Briton’s Protection, one of Manchester’s most historic pubs, where a large group of people get together on a monthly basis to talk about ideas that they fear will get them cast out of polite society. The Cancelling Cancel Culture get-togethers are supposed to be a safe space for people with heterodox views to gather and speak openly. So who goes? And what do they believe in? We sent Jack along to find out (it’s a members-only story beyond the tantalising first paragraphs, so join up if you aren’t already on the paid list).
Help us out: We’re writing about one of the great talking points of Mancunian life this weekend: Piccadilly Gardens. What should be done with the gardens? Can the space be improved? The council is about to spend tens of millions of pounds trying to turn our city’s central square into something a bit safer and more inviting, with a public consultation opening soon. Do you have strong views on this? Are you an architect or designer who knows what needs to be done? Please email Mollie with great haste (she’s writing the story today and tomorrow morning) to share your wisdom and rage.
Yesterday, we published a great members-only piece by former council leader Sean Fielding about local government finances. Bypassing the jargon, Sean gives an insight into how funding cuts are really affecting local authorities and the services they provide, and why these cuts are particularly affecting councils in Greater Manchester. You might not think a piece about local authority funding would light up the comments section, but this one did, with some excellent contributions and stories from Millers and plenty of testy exchanges too. If you’r a member, dive in.
And if you’re not a member, become one by clicking that button below to join a community of varied and brilliant people who love this city, appreciate good writing and know how to handle themselves in a pub debate.
Your Mill briefing
🗳 Simon Danczuk — the former Rochdale Labour MP who was kicked out of the party for sending explicit messages to a 17-year-old girl — is standing in the borough’s by-election this month. He told The Sun that Labour has gone from “work to woke”, losing focus on what he calls traditional Labour values like cutting immigration. Triggered by the death of Sir Tony Lloyd, the by-election is attracting a motley crew of candidates, including George Galloway, current leader of the Workers’ Party of Britain. Danczuk, who contributes to GBNews, is standing as a candidate for Reform UK, the party founded by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Allen Brett, the former leader of Rochdale Council, told The Mill: “I’m totally disgusted, I always thought he (Danczuk) had some honour and pride, and he obviously doesn’t, he sells himself to the highest bidder.” When we asked Danczuk for his thoughts on Brett suggesting his main reason for running is to stay relevant and sustain his career in the media, he said: “Allen is entitled to his opinion,” and that he is standing because “Labour are treating Rochdale as if it's for them to do what they want with, I think I can do better, and Rochdale deserves better.”
🔍 An independent report into the Edenfield Centre, a mental health unit in Bury, has found its patients were “denied basic human rights”. The report said the centre over-relied on temporary staff, ignored the concerns of patients and their family members, and mistreated staff based on protected characteristics. A 2022 Panorama investigation into Edenfield, which led to the review, filmed staff slapping and swearing at patients. The Mill hears the Edenfield controversy is causing a blockage in Greater Manchester’s mental health care system. It is the only NHS-run medium secure mental healthcare unit in the city region, so its closure to new admissions in the fallout of the Panorama investigation “means a huge backlog of patients,” across our prisons and communities, according to one staff member. Know more? Please get in touch.
🎸 Things reached a fever pitch at the final day of the court hearing over Night and Day Café’s noise abatement notice, which was issued by Manchester City Council in 2021. At one point the council’s lawyers said the venue’s owner had “stamped her feet in the playground and said ‘we were here first and we are going to do what we have always done.’” Jennifer Smithson’s lawyers called the comments “monstrously unfair” and added: "What we have just heard is a declaration of war by this council, not just on Night & Day, but on the whole of their night time economy at such a desperate time for this industry.” A decision on whether the abatement notice will be lifted is expected in the next two weeks.
🚲 Starling Bank has been announced as sponsor for the Bee Network bikes, representing the biggest ever sponsorship for Transport for Greater Manchester (it’s also a sign of Starling’s increasing presence in the city, where they recently announced they plan to create 1,000 tech jobs). The investment is designed to expand the scheme beyond the centre to other boroughs, and adds a big chunk of light blue branding to the trademark Manchester transport yellow of the bike frames. We previously covered the problems faced by the network in the summer, but a look at the bike racks in recent weeks suggests that TfGM have turned things around.
🎭 In the latest episode of one of Manchester’s strangest trends — rowdiness in theatreland — a man has been arrested after allegedly punching someone during the interval of Swan Lake at the Opera House. Since last April, police have been called to three separate incidents at Manchester theatres.
Picture of the day: Inside the newly renovated Rochdale Town Hall. Originally opened in 1871, the Grade I listed building will reopen on Sunday 3 March after a four year refurbishment. In the Great Hall, pictured above, 350 ceiling panels have been restored. The architectural writer Nikolaus Pevsner called the Town Hall a "rare picturesque beauty" and Rochdalians hope its restoration will attract visitors from far and wide.
‘I’m going insane’: My afternoon at Manchester’s anti-woke meetup
By Jack Dulhanty
I walk into the Briton’s Protection one cold Saturday afternoon and head upstairs to the function room for a meet-up called Cancelling Cancel Culture. The room has stale carpets and red felt seats, and the walls are lined with old photos of Manchester.
It’s already full when I arrive, attendees chat and drink and rearrange to accommodate newcomers. Today’s topic is the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) schemes introduced in workplaces and schools in recent years. Do they represent “education or indoctrination”? I suspect the consensus in this particular room might be indoctrination, but I’ve got an open mind.
The meeting is packed, perhaps 50 of us in total. Most of my fellow attendees are white men, but there are around a dozen women, one of whom is South Asian. It’s not exactly a diverse group, but somehow it is more diverse than I was expecting from a Cancel Culture get together: there are more women than I had imagined, and ages range from 30s upwards.
The speaker today is Barry Wall, a consultant and educator who says he worked in workplace DEI training for decades, before realising that much of it is based on an “identitarian-based, murderous ideology”. He has a tic when he speaks that you will immediately notice if you spend a bit of time on his YouTube channel: a gleeful cackle that breaks out every few sentences, even if he’s talking about something quite serious.
Wall says he lost freelance work with the University of Manchester teaching PhD students critical thinking and leadership skills because of comments he made about people on Canal Street having sex in toilets. Wall is gay, and since 2018 has been a strident member of the so-called “gender critical” movement. He has a YouTube channel called Court of the EDI Jester (EDI is a rearrangement of DEI) where he posts videos critiquing queer theory and “gender ideology”. It has more than 5,000 subscribers.
In one video from last year, Wall breaks down an interview between the Guardian columnist Owen Jones and feminist writer Judith Butler. He says Butler supports “the insertion of queering into the lives of all and particularly into the lives of children”. Wall then says "they've got to get them young. That's why these fuckers are in libraries, with their trans and nonbinary fucking creatures." Last week, Wall gleefully celebrated a Telegraph story about the government supposedly “cracking down” on civil servants who waste public money on diversity activism.
After housekeeping has been completed and upcoming free speech events signposted, Wall is introduced and gives an expansive lecture covering schools, gender identity, trans children and “activist teachers”. He tells us the education system has abandoned critical thinking as a concept, and instead dedicates itself to turning children into activists that parrot woke ideology.
The people around me seem to broadly agree. One woman tells the room “we should teach our children to be proud of being British”. Wall, and many attendees, agree that the decolonisation of curriculums is making white British children less patriotic.
Who are these people? Are they bigots who resent that racism and sexism have become increasingly taboo in modern Britain and need somewhere to come and vent? Or do many of them just hold fairly mainstream socially conservative positions, amped up by a bit of internet-induced paranoia about how everyone is trying to shut them down?
Sitting next to me is Paul, a man in his 50s who is wearing a yellow pullover and raincoat. Before the meeting begins, I ask him what has brought him here. He turns to me.
“I’m going insane.”