Why we should expect 'crazy results' on Super Thursday

Plus: We were in court for a 'very peculiar case' at Minshull Street

Good afternoon Millers — we hope you’re enjoying Bank Holiday Monday. The important date to remember: this Thursday is election day. More about that below.

If you missed it, this weekend we published an in-depth interview with Andy Burnham. One thing that repeatedly cropped up: Burnham’s desire to clarify that his anger over the government’s Tier 3 stance was genuine and that his commitment to issues in Greater Manchester is authentic. “This is the real me,” he told us.

One more thing: We are always reliant on your help spreading the word about The Mill because that’s the main way we grow. If you enjoy our newsletters, please do tell a friend about us by forwarding this email or using the button below to share a link to our site via text or WhatsApp.

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The week’s weather

The big story

Top line: They are billing it as Super Thursday — the biggest day of local elections ever held. Because of last year’s postponed polls, the ones taking place this year are much bigger than normal. 48 million voters are eligible to vote in the first major electoral event since the December 2019 General Election, with some national polls showing Labour narrowing the gap to the Conservatives.

Here’s the scale of it - via a useful national guide from POLITICO.

Seats on 143 English councils are up for grabs, plus 129 Scottish parliament seats, 60 Welsh Assembly seats, 25 London Assembly members, 13 directly elected mayors, 39 police commissioners and a Westminster by-election for the Hartlepool constituency.

Laura Evans, the Conservative candidate for mayor of Greater Manchester, out campaigning last week with Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick and Nick Jones, the leader of Bury Conservatives. Picture: @LauraEvans4GM’s Twitter.

Local picture: In Greater Manchester, we are voting on the GM mayoral race, voters in Salford are voting on the borough’s directly-elected mayor, and across the city region a third of councillors are up for election. More from Tom’s bumper guide to the elections in GM (members-only):

…that translates to 221 out of 645 seats. Every ward in Greater Manchester is electing at least one councillor and, in some places, where there have been resignations or deaths, there will be two councillors up for election.

Where to look: Stockport is the council where control could change hands. Labour has been running it as a minority administration, but the Lib Dems are confident of taking it back. They lost control of their one-seat majority in 2016.

Known unknowns: The unusual thing about this election is how little the candidates know about what voters are thinking. Most of the campaign has been done online, so there’s been less chance to pick up the public mood at in-person hustings and speak to people on the doorstep.

  • Last week, Lib Dem mayoral candidate Simon Lepori told us: “We will see some oddities,” and added: “I think Bolton is a real opportunity for some crazy results.”

  • Another curveball: Turnout. The strange circumstances make predicting how many people are going to vote really difficult, and small changes in turnout could swing marginal wards.

Councillor’s view: Marcus Johns, Labour Councillor for Deansgate, tells us:

This year's obviously been so different because you've not been able to talk to people, you can't knock on doors, we didn't even deliver literature for most of the year. You still contact people and you keep up listening to people and trying to help them with issues, but it's not the same as saying "shall we meet for a coffee and chat about this?"

Get ready: To find your polling station, head to the Electoral Commission website and enter your postcode. It will also tell you who your local candidates are.

  • Polls open 7am Thursday morning and close at 10pm. Join us as a member to get our coverage on Friday morning.

Home of the week

This incredible 7-bed Grade II-listed house in Rochdale is on the market for £475,000. It needs some TLC, but has lovely flagstone floors.

Covid-19 update

  • Case rates: Greater Manchester’s case rate is now 34.9, but it’s almost stopped falling, down just 1.8% versus the previous week. That’s because rates are actually rising in Bolton, Trafford, Salford, Oldham and Rochdale. Bolton’s rate (61) is the highest, and Wigan’s (19) is the lowest. The rate across England is 22.8, down 9.6% in a week.

  • Hospitals: There are now just 24 Covid-19 patients in critical wards, down from the peak of 170 in February. Covid admissions last week were just 8 — just over one per day across all Greater Manchester’s hospitals. And there are now just 95 non-critical Covid patients in hospital.

  • Vaccinations: Under-45s are now being invited for their first vaccination appointments. 55% of GM residents over the age of 16 have now had one dose, and 24% have had two. Those percentages for the over-70s are 94% and 83%. You can find all the data — which goes up to last Wednesday — here.

Coming up on The Mill

“It wasn’t a job, it was a pleasure,” Della Robinson told Dani last week about what it was like being a postmistress in Dukinfield.

To get a sense of what kind of community it was, Della’s three grandchildren would sometimes visit her at work, and old ladies would slip them sweets and pocket money. People would leave their shopping inside with her while they went to appointments or had to run errands.

In 2010, Della’s post office was switched over to the new Horizon accounting system. That’s when her life descended into a nightmare. Two years later she was convicted of stealing £17,000, like so many other postmasters across the country.

When Dani asked Della how she felt after her name was cleared, she said: “I’m numb.”

In a members-only story on Wednesday, we tell the story of when Della realised she was being accused of theft, what it was like battling the Post Office during the case, and how people in the community treated her after her conviction.

Tomorrow’s members’ post is our full interview with Andy Burnham in podcast form. Listen in to find out how he answered questions from Mill readers about health and social care, and whether the ‘King of the North’ adulation is “a normal or healthy relationship for a city to have with its leader?”

On Thursday morning we will publish an Election Day special newsletter as Greater Manchester goes to the polls.

Members will get those newsletters in their inboxes. If you haven’t got round to subscribing yet, it’s a great week to join. Just hit the button below.

Five stories worth reading

1. Historic disappearance

Specialist officers started searching a Crumpsall home last week in a bid to find clues about the decades-old disappearance of a woman, Isabella Skelton who was last seen leaving her family home in 1969 the MEN reports. Her daughter Linda Chapman said: “The long and short of it is she probably is dead, but I can’t breathe until I know that for sure. It’s just so hard. I’m not going to give up. There has got to be someone, somewhere that knows something.”

2. Dreaming of the future

Do dreams have a distinct psychological predictive power? Yes, argues Sue Llewellyn, professor of humanities at the University of Manchester in this Aeon article. Llewellyn discusses the role of REM sleep, and our ability to unconsciously find patterns in life that explain how our dreams predict future events. “In our evolutionary past, we dreamed to survive. While we can’t say that dreams come true, we can say that they predict.”

3. The rise of fan power

Miguel Delaney writes in the Independent about the ramifications of yesterday’s extraordinary protests at Old Trafford. Tensions were running high as fans gathered to protest against the Glazers. “These were almost unprecedented scenes. There has never been a game – let alone a game of this scale – postponed due to fan protest in the Premier League era.”

4. Salford Star closes down

One of Greater Manchester’s independent media outlets is closing in May after 15 years of reporting, The Meteor reports. The Salford Star, which was founded in 2006 with the tagline “with attitude & love”, announced its closure on April 1. “We are celebrating all of the hard work that our team and we have put into it,” its co-founder said. “We are proud of what we’ve achieved, but enough is enough.”

5. Tragedy at Lag B’Omer Festival

A 24-year-old man from Salford was named as one of the victims killed in the Lag B’Omer festival crush at Mount Meron, northern Israel. Moshe Bergman had been training to become a rabbi in Jerusalem. A rabbi who is a friend of the family said: “They have accepted that this was a tragic accident and as people of faith accept the will of God.”

We can’t get enough of this photo of boxing legend Muhammad Ali being swamped by shoppers in Stretford. If only Ovaltine had the same mass appeal today…

In case you missed it

From our long read last week about a “a very peculiar case” that came before the Crown Court at Minshull Street:

In September 2017, a 15-year-old girl in North Manchester started getting text messages and calls from a number she didn’t recognise. While she was at a friend’s birthday party, she got a message asking if she was drunk and who she was with. It mentioned a couple of her friends by name. The girl showed the number to her friends and shared it on social media, asking if anyone knew who it was.

“Fuck off you weirdo,” one of the teenagers wrote to the number in a message. One of them saved the caller as “paedo” on her phone. Soon the unknown person had the numbers of three 15-year-old girls and began messaging them incessantly. “What colour are your knickers today?” one of the messages asked.

The three girls also got phone calls from the number. When they answered, the caller didn’t speak. Some of the messages mentioned where the girls lived, and the person messaging them also named the bus they rode to school. One of the girls saw a man on the bus who she suspected was the person calling and messaging them. 

The girls were freaked out. At times the caller said they knew what colour underwear they were wearing. Those messages seemed like guesses because the colours were wrong. But when the messages mentioned the places the girls lived and the buses they rode, the information was correct. They sensed they were being watched.

Read the piece, which we reported from the courts (members only).

Things to do this week

Anniversary | On Wednesday, it will be 200 years since the Guardian was first published in Manchester. Join the John Rylands Library at lunchtime for an Instagram Live session as they delve into their archives and celebrate the newspaper’s connection to the city. Find them @thejohnrylands.

Victoria Baths | To mark their re-opening, Victoria Baths will be running a series of Creative Makers Fairs, starting this Saturday. It will also be the first time they will be showing off the newly restored stained glass windows in the Females Pool, which were re-installed in March of 2020. You need to book in advance.

Crafts | On Saturday, Cotton On MCR will be running a hoop botanical embroidery session with artist Rebecca Stevens at Stretford Public Hall. You’ll learn 3 different embroidery techniques and hopefully by the end, have a lovely design to take home and hang up. Rebecca creates lovely, rich landscapes and minimalist designs, all with a needle and thread. Book here.

Listen | We’ve been listening to BBC Radio 3’s ‘Unclassified’ shows with Elizabeth Alker — which she presents from a studio in Salford — and wanted to share a sublime piece of music that was recently featured. It’s called ‘Part 2’ by Antonia Nowacka, and it was recorded inside a Javanese cave.

Podcast | Between 2008 and 2014, more than 85 bodies were recovered from Manchester canals. Many of them were young men, and some of the deaths were recorded as ‘unexplainable’. The Tales of Mystery podcast — whose journalistic credentials we can’t vouch for — considers whether these deaths were the work of a serial killer named ‘The Manchester Pusher’. Listen here.

A BBC radio announcer broadcasting for a "Childrens Hour" radio programme whilst seated on a wooden seat on an elephants back, Belle Vue, c.1948. Photo: Manchester Archives+ via Flickr.

Book of the week: Golden Mummies of Egypt

Last month we ventured down into Manchester Museum’s storerooms with Dr Campbell Price, Curator of Ancient Egypt & Sudan. It was a very special moment as it was the first time Campbell had set foot inside the museum in five months.

We’re delighted that his most recent book Golden Mummies of Egypt: Interpreting Identities from the Graeco-Roman Period is now available to buy online.

Sumptuously illustrated with new photography by Julia Thorn and drawing on little-known archive material, Golden Mummies of Egypt showcases for the first time this extraordinary range of artefacts .

Letters to the editor

It seems that Burnham shares two fatal character weaknesses with Boris Johnson — the overriding desire to be liked and the attempts to come across as authentic. Whereas Starmer, I feel, cares about his public image. He wants to come across as professional, but doesn't care about being liked — and his priority is to persuade sufficient people to vote Labour at the next election. You couldn't be Director of Public Prosecutions as Starmer was and not have the capacity to be tough when needed. I've welcomed the profiles of the different condidates for GM Mayor that The Mill has provided. The only problem is, I now have no idea who I'm going to vote for next Thursday. Elaine Burrows, Prestwich

Enjoyed your in-depth interview with Andy Burnham. There’s a limit to how close it’s possible to get to authenticity. It’s much easier to detect the inauthenticities of the majority of politicians providing the party line on morning media appearances. Tudor Richards, Manchester

I’ve missed the galleries since lockdown (‘As the pandemic dragged on, exiled Mancunians started to yearn for paintings of home’) Although I wouldn’t have her [Jen Orpin’s] paintings on my wall, I’m very intrigued by the idea of turning concrete into art. It evokes a similar reaction I have when staying in one of Le Corbusier buildings in Firminy, France. The church in particular is stark, yet inside there is a strangely calm beauty. Dorli Nauta, Bowdon