'I've spent a year fighting off bullying and harassment from the Labour Group'
Why Ekua Bayunu defected to the Greens. Plus the rest of your weekly briefing
Dear Millers — The Green Party is now the official opposition in Manchester after the shock defection of a Labour councillor in Hulme — more on that below. Plus, our home of the week is a lovely boat moored in New Islington Marina. We also have a great list of things to do this week, including a baroque concert, an Opera North retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice, a Great Gatsby-themed ball, and a rap battle…whew!
On Saturday, we published a moving piece about Jayvon Morgan, a young man who has lost multiple friends to violent crime in Moss Side. One reader commented: “Proper local journalism. I worked as a children's social worker in Wythenshawe and Longsight for a couple of years and this article rings really true to me.”
One day, in the weeks after Sait’s murder, Jayvon went into the office on a break and saw Sait’s face on the TV screen. Reports on his murder and his case. “I would hear, like, little comments and stuff like that. No one knew that was my friend.”
Last week we sent Mill members an insightful story about Stephen, a former drug addict-turned poet. A reader told us: “It makes us realise that everyone's got a story to tell if it can just be brought to life.” They also got our bumper Thursday edition which delved into some tasty census data and tried to answer the question of why Salford was the fastest growing local authority in the North West.
This week we will be publishing a story about the inquest of student Charley Gadd, who died in the River Irwell after running away from his parents after a night out in Manchester.
To get that story in your inbox, join us as a member today. Members get two extra editions of The Mill each week, and support all of our work.
This week’s weather 🌤
Our forecast comes from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says we’ll be getting an extended period of “dry, warm and often sunny weather.”
Tuesday ☁️ Mostly dry and a touch warmer despite mostly cloudy skies. Max 18°c.
Wednesday ☁️ Cloudy and mild with patchy drizzle/light rain. Breezy. Max 18°c.
Thursday ⛅️ Warmer with hazy sunny spells coming through. Max 20°c.
Friday 🌤 Dry and warm with sunny spells. Max 22°c.
Weekend 🌤 Warm with sunny spells and mostly dry conditions. Temperatures 20-23°c approx.
The big story: Why a vocal black councillor in Manchester defected from Labour
Top line: On Friday Ekua Bayunu — a councillor for Hulme — defected from Labour to the Green Party, making the Greens the official opposition in Manchester with three seats. In a letter to her residents, Bayunu said that she was “constantly at odds” with the party’s local leaders, and said her ability to serve her community was being hampered by the party’s culture.
“I've spent a year fighting off bullying and harassment from the Labour Group,” Bayunu told The Mill. The Labour Group says that the claims are “without foundation”.
When asked to specify instances of bullying and harassment, Bayunu said: "if you want the actual detail of how it impacted me individually, you're going to have to wait a couple of months. Because I can't give it any more of my time."
Similar claims were made by Marcia Hutchinson, another black councillor who quit her role representing Ancoats and Beswick late last year. She said the internal party whips, who enforce discipline in the all-powerful Labour Group, "make up the rules" and "target anyone they don't like".
A senior Labour councillor says Bayunu jumped before she was pushed. “She was up for reselection in September for next year. I think she saw the writing on the wall. The members would not have reselected her.”
Macho culture: Away from her personal experiences, Bayunu said that the Labour Group’s internal culture was one of “macho posturing” and that it led to councillors wasting time that should have been put to better use serving residents. “I found it appalling,” she told us, adding:
People felt they had time to waste with petty political gesturing and point scoring. You know, we literally were first back after the city had gone through lockdown and the pandemic, people had experienced huge numbers of deaths. There's no time for bullying and name-calling and bringing up old histories, we needed to be working together.
Leese’s legacy: The Hulme councillor mentioned the 25-year-reign of Sir Richard Leese, who stepped down as leader last year. Leese and his close ally Pat Karney created a highly pragmatic but often fearful political culture in Manchester’s Labour Group, which aimed to avoid the internal squabbles that were derailing other city councils, but was seen as discouraging public dissent. Here’s a passage from our long-read profile of Leese last year:
There was a kind of omerta about thinking about how the city was run,” says a former advisor to Leese. “They want to keep these things internal,” says one councillor. “This stuff doesn’t go out into the public domain very much, because these are supposed to be private meetings. It’s fairly top-down, heavy-handed control.
Bayunu ran an outsider campaign for the leadership in May 2021, winning 15 votes on a left-wing platform. She ran again after Leese quit, but was eliminated in the first round of voting. On the council’s leadership, she told us: “Richard was there for far too long, and it became very toxic. People might say that I haven't given it enough time to see if Bev Craig is going to change that. I worry that I'm not seeing change quick enough to really impact for the better.”
The Mill understands that Bayunu made non-formal and formal complaints about the culture at the council, but she felt whips didn’t sufficiently investigate her claims. “It's not like I've been simmering,” she said, “I did raise on a regular basis that this isn't the way we need to be representing our city."
Pat Karney, Manchester Labour Group’s secretary, said the group was “sad to see” Bayunu defect. Then he pointedly tweeted a picture of the two remaining Labour councillors in Bayunu’s Hulme ward with: “Two of our hardest working Labour Councillors. Real leadership in the Hulme Community.”
Hulme Labour. @LabourHulmeComradeship and Solidarity https://t.co/AitS7SHDVA
Lee-Ann Igbon, one of Bayunu’s fellow councillors in Hulme, said she found out about the defection on social media, then received a letter from Bayunu saying that she hoped to carry on working together as councillors, “but I find it very difficult to work with somebody who I can't trust and somebody that's reneged on their promises to people that have voted for them,” says Igbon.
Igbon also highlighted Bayunu’s attendance record in council meetings (she’s had a 60% attendance rate since January): “If you don't attend meetings, and you're not there, how can you work with other people?” As it happens Bayunu described herself as a natural team player, and said that she “found it quite difficult to really get a collaborative working style going,” in Manchester Labour.
Bayunu’s defection means the Green Party have three councillors, making them the official opposition to Manchester Labour’s 91.
It takes the agreement of five councillors to table a motion, so the Greens will have to work together with the two Lib Dems in the chamber to put forward policy.
Astrid Johnson will receive an additional allowance of £3,366 as the leader of the opposition.
“An official opposition will be able to take the council to task — the Labour Group to task — over its own policy,” says Bayanu.
Bottom line: One defection won’t threaten Labour’s dominance of the council, and insiders who knew about Bayunu’s long-standing grievances don’t expect a wave of councillors to follow her lead. But the story renews the focus on the political culture in Manchester — Bev Craig should now tell voters how the Labour Group operates, and on what basis the whips can punish councillors for speaking out. Secondly, it adds to the momentum the Greens are picking up in the city, after picking up two seats (both in Woodhouse Park in Wythenshawe) in the past two years. They will be eyeing more in next year’s elections.
Home of the week
Captain Jack is a 2-bedroom wide beam houseboat moored at New Islington Marina, featuring a Rayburn coal fire and a gas hob. It’s on the market for £200,000.
Your Mill news briefing
Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central, will raise concerns with Justice Secretary Dominic Raab over four young black men from north Manchester who were jailed for taking part in a group chat that discussed avenging a friend's murder. The boys were sentenced to eight years in prison for conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm or murder, despite having no weapons and committing no violence. Powell contrasted the case with that of Joshua Molnar, the 17-year-old from Hale Barns cleared of murder and manslaughter after fatally stabbing Yousef Makki in 2019.
Oldham police have called for calm after the video of an assault on a boy, thought to be a Bangladeshi student, was shared online, causing uproar. Three separate properties have been attacked in response. Three arrests have been made in relation to the assault, and residents met in a car park with police and councillors to talk about the incident. Police in Oldham said there will be "an enhanced police presence in the area.”
There will be a public inquiry into plans to raise the cost of crossing a toll bridge into Trafford. The property company Peel, which owns Warburton Toll Bridge, wants to increase the toll price from 12p to £1. Trafford and Warrington councils — the two councils the bridge spans — oppose the plans, which were announced last year. The bridge, built in 1863, is the only route over the River Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal between the M6 and M60. Peel says the cost hike will be used to finance a £6.5m renovation.
On our podcast, Mike Unger — the legendary ex-editor of the Manchester Evening News — spoke to Joshi about what it was like entering the Strangeways Riot, and how it felt to edit a newspaper read by a million Mancunians. He also remembers having the novel idea of making readers pay to access the MEN’s online site in the ‘90s. Instead, it was made free, which is what led many regional newspapers like the MEN to rely on clickbait articles and online advertising to turn a profit. “I thought, if these people are going to get the paper, in effect, 45 minutes before they can buy it on the street, they should pay for it. And my colleagues on the board said: ‘no, it should be free.’” Listen on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.
Our favourite reads
Sentence. Full stop — Big Issue North
This piece highlights the work of Out and Out, an organisation in Manchester that wants to help former inmates break the cycles of crime and drug addiction. It’s staffed by ex-offenders, which one worker describes as “a big family”. We hear the story of David Moores, who had been in care since the age of seven and had his first prison sentence aged 21. “From there, ‘it was crime, crime, crime, crime, in and out of jail’. He doesn’t know the exact number of sentences but it’s a lot. ‘I would rob your eyes off you and try to sell them back to you. I couldn’t give a fuck who you were,’ he says.”
‘Playing cricket in Preston was like being Billy Elliot’ — The Sunday Times
England cricket legend Freddie Flintoff talked to David Collins about his new BBC show Freddie Flintoff’s Field of Dreams. Flintoff, who lives in Hale, grew up in Preston and was bullied for playing cricket. In his show, he coaches a group of working class boys hoping to turn them into a cricket team. After they discovered the BBC had described them as “underprivileged” the project looked set to unravel. “‘Underprivileged’ is like a buzzword — it’s almost like click bait. When the press release was put out and the kids were up in arms over it, I could not defend it. They just need a chance, some of these lads. They need somebody to back them,” Flintoff said.
Disabled benefits claimants are being unfairly investigated — Huck Magazine
This story from earlier this year highlights the injustices that disabled people who claim benefits face. Some have been subjected to “invasive” benefit fraud investigations after the government started using an algorithm — but the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People is fighting back. “In his role with the GMCDP, Burgess has seen firsthand the serious impact of these investigations on many others. Testimony reveals how people are forced to make long and frustrating calls to call centres, dealing with operators with no training to assist disabled and vulnerable people.”
An incisive and funny piece in Aeon, written by computational biologist Jim Kozubek, who writes, “First, let me tell you how smart I am. So smart. My fifth-grade teacher said I was gifted in mathematics and, looking back, I have to admit that she was right.” Philosopher John Harris of the University of Manchester contributes to this piece, arguing that we “have a duty to manipulate the genetic code of our future children”, a concept an academic from the University of Oxford termed ‘procreative beneficence’.
Our to do list
👜 A suitcase full of letters and photos that belonged to a school teacher who died in 1958 will make up a new exhibition called Growing up in Manchester at Manchester Central Library. The suitcase's contents include letters from Charles Prestwich Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian. It starts today and will run until September. Info here.
🎤 Contact Theatre holds a weekly Monday Mic Night. Singers, rappers and poets get to battle it out with rap games. It’s free to take part in or watch. Kicks of 6.30pm. Info here.
❔ A Tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is on at The Lowry — it’s part of Opera North’s ‘Orpheus Season’. This retelling takes us to meet the star-crossed lovers who are lost in an unfamiliar city, and encounter music ranging from South Asian, classical, folk and blues. Book here.
📽 IndieFlicks at Chapeltown Picture House runs on the first Wednesday of each month and shows film shorts plus a director’s choice film — this week’s selection is a surprise. Starts 7.30pm. Book here.
👗 Northern Fashion Week starts on Thursday at 10am and will run until Saturday. It celebrates northern creativity, and there will be refreshments, guest speakers from the industry, and a catwalk. Book here.
🎭 There’s a Great Gatsby Ball at the Hilton in aid of the Manchester Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centre. There will be a charity auction and the chance to have a boogie. Starts 7pm. Book here.
🎻 Our friends Manchester Baroque will be recreating one of Manchester’s first-ever concerts, which took place almost 300 years ago. Their program includes Handel’s ‘Overture to Tamerlano’ and Corelli’s ‘Trio Sonata in E minor, Op. 1, No.2’. Starts 7.30pm on Saturday at St Ann’s Church. Book here.
🐟 If you’re looking for a weekend dining spot, Greek restaurant Rozafa on 63 Princess Street does excellent seafood. We’ve eaten there and like the whole grilled sea bass. Book here.
☕ Drop in for a cuppa
As journalists, it’s important that we meet the people and communities we serve and write about. If you have a story or some information you’d like to share in confidence, do come into our office on St Ann’s Square for a cup of tea. You can find us at:
The Mill, 537 Royal Exchange, Old Bank Street, Manchester, M2 7DH. We are on the fifth floor.
If the city centre’s too far for a visit, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or send tip-offs to the address above. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with sensitivity.
Letters to the editor
Great piece — a really personal story exemplifying the issues in a community (‘When will Moss Side get a chance to mourn?’). My life experiences have been very different from Jayvon’s but the piece left me wondering how I would have responded to his. James
This is what I love about The Mill ('Suddenly life just becomes one long miracle’). Your entrenched and correct belief that there is no such thing as an ordinary human being. Miranda
Two things stand out in Jack’s telling of this story (‘When will Moss Side get a chance to mourn?’). An absence of victim-blaming and the rawness of his interviewee’s losses. It’s a compelling, humane and important piece. Carin