New polling shows 32 Tory seats in the Red Wall 'at risk'

The Conservative Party conference comes to Manchester, plus the rest of your weekly briefing

Good afternoon Millers and welcome to this week’s Monday briefing. The city is full of Conservatives this week, as the governing party has its first in-person conference for two years. Scroll down for our mini-report on the gathering, including insights from the author of a new book on the Red Wall.

Andy Burnham is using this week to lobby ministers — and in particular the newly appointed minister for levelling up, Michael Gove — for just over £1 billion in new funding to support a London-style transport system in Greater Manchester, amongst other things. He wrote about it in this weekend’s Guardian and will be saying more this week.

Many thanks for your many emails and tweets about our weekend read about the Strangeways riot. This is what Patrick Maguire from The Times had to say about the story:

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This week’s weather

Our forecast comes from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says “the jet stream will get displaced to our North West this week, aided by ex-hurricane Sam. This change will allow high pressure to build and ridge in. As a result, our weather will settle down and turn warmer from Wednesday.”

  • Monday 🌦 Another day of sunny spells and occasional heavy showers. Highs of 15°C.

  • Tuesday 🌧 Low pressure will bring a chilly and unsettled Tuesday with outbreaks of heavy rain. Highs of 12°C. 

  • Wednesday 🌤 As air pressure rises, Wednesday will be mostly dry. Sunny spells will develop widely during the afternoon. Highs of 15°C.

  • Thursday 🌦 A cloudy/murky start to Thursday with the chance of a few showers in the West. A brighter afternoon will follow. Turning warmer. Highs of 19°C.

  • Friday ⛅️ A foggy start is likely for many on Friday. Once the fog lifts, there will be warm intervals of Autumn sunshine. Warm for October. Highs of 18°C. 

  • Weekend 🌤 High pressure is favoured to build in more strongly. A continuation of cool and murky mornings, followed by pleasant and bright afternoons, will persist. 

For the full forecast, please visit Manchester Weather.

🕵️‍♂️ Grist to The Mill: If you want to tell us about a story or pass on some information, please email, or We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity. Get in touch.

The big story: Tories in town

Top line: An army of ministers, MPs, aides, lobbyists and Conservative members are in the city until Wednesday for the party’s conference. The governing party wants to talk about its plan to level up the country and secure higher wages for workers, but they face questions about food and fuel shortages and a looming winter of discontent.

This morning the influential Playbook newsletter from POLITICO said there are “rumours swirling” about “big policy announcements on the minimum wage, high speed rail, infrastructure and skills.”

  • Watching brief: New levelling up Secretary Michael Gove speaks on the main stage at 2pm.

Protesters were out on the streets yesterday, including Labour councillor Bev Craig, one of the front-runners to replace Sir Richard Leese as Manchester’s council leader. She tweeted: “Great to join many of my Labour and trade union colleagues today. Rain or shine we’re #UnitedAgainstTheTories.”

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, says levelling up must involve “learning from existing successes in current areas of devolution to GM, and taking these lessons and applying them across places in the North and beyond.” He told us:

Levelling up has to move from rhetoric to reality, which means confirmation of Northern Powerhouse Rail from Leeds to Bradford and on to here in Manchester as well as HS2 — not instead of.

We need to raise more money across the North to pay for the investment we need. That should include replacing road tax and fuel duty with road pricing, and retaining the revenues here in the Northern Powerhouse.

Remember, the phrase “levelling up” emerged from the electoral strength the Conservatives have been enjoying in former “Red Wall” seats in the North and Midlands. But can they sustain that support, including in the Greater Manchester seats they won? New polling out this morning shows that “32 out of 50 Tory seats in the North, midlands and north Wales are at risk”.

Expert view: Sebastian Payne, whose new book Broken Heartlands: A Journey Through Labour's Lost England chronicles the party's capture of the Red Wall, is in town to cover the conference for the FT. He told us this conference is about projecting the message that levelling up is still a priority after the pandemic.

Michael Gove, the minister in charge of levelling up, will try to set out a narrative about how you tackle regional inequality and, crucially, how you measure success in improving people's lives. Levelling up is such a catch-all term it can mean anything to anyone. Eventually, voters will want more detail if they are going to buy into it — but don’t expect it this week. There’s a policy paper due in the coming months that goes further into the specifics. For now, Gove and Johnson want voters to know they’re taking the project seriously.

Home of the week

A 4-bed farmhouse with 3 reception rooms and plenty of surrounding countryside has just come on the market in Harwood, Bolton. It needs some TLC, but it has lovely wooden beams and original features. Offers start over £310,000.

Other local news in brief

  • Researchers from Manchester Metropolitan have been inviting locals to take part in a reading exercise designed to tease out verbal tics as part of research into the accent diversity of the ten Greater Manchester boroughs. “Of course accents are changing, particularly among younger people, and we are trying to record those changes. But this is also about preserving accents from 2021 for future generations.” Read more.

  • A group has formed to oppose the development of an estate in Smithills, Bolton. Grizedale Residents Ecological Environmental Action Team have received 650 signatures against plans submitted by Watson Homes, which seeks to build nine houses and a 4-storey tower block on the site. Locals say the development is out of step with the local community and will put wildlife at risk. Read more.

  • More than half of teaching staff at Co-op Academy Swinton are planning three days of strike action this week, against what union members describe as: "excessive working hours, shorter lunchtimes, and the imposition of unacceptable practices with regard to teaching and learning and teachers’ performance management." Read more.

Things to do

🎵 Music | There’s music after-hours this Wednesday evening at the Science and Industry Museum, inspired by the very popular current exhibition, ‘Use Hearing Protection: the early years of Factory Records’. It features live performances by Hannah Ashcroft, Chesqua and Lady Ice. More details here.

🎉 Festival | Sick Festival is launching a new photography exhibition on Friday. ‘Birds of a Feather’ explores the connection between green spaces, wellbeing and identity. More info here

🎙 Talk | Manchester journalist Anita Sethi is giving a talk about her new memoir as part of Manchester Literature Festival at Manchester Museum this Sunday. ‘I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain’ reflects on the meanings of home and belonging following a race hate crime that Sethi was subjected to in 2019. Book tickets here.

🍜 Street food | The new street food event in Stalybridge is in full swing, with some great local food vendors, a bar, and seating on both sides of the canal this Friday. The organisers say the road will be closed much earlier this time “allowing people to relax, with extra room to manoeuvre, especially in terms of disabled access and pushchairs.” More info here.

🎬 Film | HOME’s Black History Month programme starts with a screening of Melvin Van Peeble’s ‘The Story of a Three Day Pass’ on Tuesday and Wednesday, a French new-wave film about the whirlwind romance of a soldier who falls in love in Paris. It questions what happens after furlough ends, and the attitudes to race and mixed romance. More details here

🪡 Crafts | The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair returns to Victoria Baths on Friday and it looks like a lovely day out. More details here.

🎞 Exhibition | There’s a new exhibition at HOME and Sale Waterside which looks interesting. ‘She Appeared to Vanish’ by a group of artists “asks the viewer to consider the act of viewing the female form and its historical and contemporary implications”. More details here.

📚 Workshop | And there’s a free Black History workshop for ages 13-18 at Manchester Central Library this week. ‘The Year Moss Side Exploded!’ explores the 1981 riots and will be delivered by Black History tutor Linford Sweeney, who was there when it happened. Register here

Book of the week: Ghost Wall

We enjoyed Ghost Wall by Manchester writer Sarah Moss, a wild tale of a camping expedition in rural Northumberland in which a family and a group of archaeology students live an exposed, primitive life as Britons did in the Iron Age.

Privacy’s a fancy modern idea, exactly what we’re getting away from, everyone trying to hide away and do what they want. You’ll be joining in with the rest of us.

Ghost Wall is available to buy here.

Our favourite reads

Forget London – why foodies are flocking to the NorthThe Spectator

This piece by former criminal barrister turned pastry chef Olivia Potts shines a light on the distinctive and illustrious culinary scene of the North, which draws out some star restaurants in Manchester. “For those of us living (and eating) in the North of England, this success is probably no surprise: the Northern culinary scene has been going from strength to strength — and none of these restaurants are new.”

‘We took a side-step out of Labour bollocks, basically’The Face

This interview with Andy Burnham reveals more about his relationships with Nicola Sturgeon, Westminster and what devolution really means for Manchester. “He begins drafting a tweet. ‘What I’m trying to get at is [that] she’s fudging it,’ he stresses to Lee, as the pair thrash out appropriate wording. Burnham talks openly in front of me, tapping a statement into his phone with one hand and tearing into a chicken wrap with the other. ​’You’ve come on an interesting day,’ he notes, dryly.”

'It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle'The Economist

We liked this journey with a lifelong lorry driver from Manchester, and the highs and lows associated with the job. “He was older and wiser when he paired up with his seventh girlfriend, Amanda, or Manda, as everyone knows her. Perhaps that’s why they’re still together now seven years on. ‘She understands the job,’ he said. ‘He’s off his head,’ she told me the next day when I stopped by her sandwich shop, Manda’s Baps, in Droylsden, a town near Manchester. ‘To be honest with you, I don’t think I could cope with him seven days a week.’”

‘Why am I opinionated? What’s the alternative?’ The Times

Gary Neville spoke to The Times about “attacking the day”, examples of great leadership, and why he’s a champagne socialist, which makes for entertaining reading. “My investments, my businesses will only be in Greater Manchester,” he said. “I’m not passionate about anywhere else. I enjoy visiting London to do the football. I love going abroad on holiday and skiing but I absolutely adore Greater Manchester.”

Half an hour in the life’ — Manchester Confidential

Writer Henry Normal goes behind the scenes of the Royle Family to explore what made the show so unique. “It always tickled me that Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston, and some of the other cast, would sit in the V&A — a very posh hotel in Manchester — and Ricky would take his own beer in a carrier bag and then sneak it into his glass, so we didn't have to pay the expensive prices.”

Photo of the week

Just outside what would become The Mill’s neighbour, queues outside the women’s employment exchange on St Anne Street, 1947.

Covid-19 update

Cases: Cases are pretty flat nationally. The case rate for Greater Manchester is 324.2, up 2.7%, compared to England’s 325.8, down 0.2%. Cases are highest in Stockport, around 500. Infection rates are lowest in Manchester, about the 200 mark.

Hospitalisations: Hospitalisations are falling across Greater Manchester. The number of Covid-19 patients in critical care was 48 the week ending 20 September, down from 60 the previous week. The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital minus critical care was 298, down 30 from the previous week.

Vaccinations: As of 20 September, 72% of all adults in GM have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine — that’s 1,759,929 people. 93% of over 70s are double jabbed, compared with 60% of 18-49s. We will have more up-to-date figures this week from the GMCA.

Letters to the editor

Green belt areas should never be released for development. (‘A heated battle over the Green Belt reaches its climax in Greater Manchester.’) They are by definition protected areas, set aside for recreation and as a refuge for wildlife, especially endangered species such as the willow tit. There are enough brownfield sites available for re-development. If green belt areas are released for development, this paves the way for a process of attrition in which more and more land gets released every time they feel the need to extend urbanisation. The only way to stop this trend is to guarantee that green belt areas have an indefinite inviolable protection. Colin, Altrincham

“If you weren’t here now, speaking to us, I’d be boring him to death about my new electric bed,” ('Car bombs, sedition and a full English: A morning at the veterans' breakfast club.') It seems to me, as a more senior member of the Mill readers club, that these writers, & perhaps Jack Dulhanty especially, are great listeners. It isn’t easy to break into a somewhat sectional conversation between people older than yourself, and come away with coherent reported speech. It is great to read writing without an angle, without pitch, agenda or prejudice. Just lucid, nuanced colourful stuff. Phil, Wythenshawe

That’s it — you’re all caught up.