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The Tories arrive in Manchester bearing bad news
Plus, a new exhibition to celebrate Black History Month, and Manchester researchers find undiscovered galaxies in the early universe
Dear Millers — it’s October and Manchester is once again awash with Conservatives. Or is it? Journalists attending the party’s annual conference — which kicked off yesterday — have described it as a “funeral wake” and a “ghost town”, while this morning’s Guardian thought infighting among Tory factions jockeying for power might wreck Rishi Sunak’s week.
And then to really spice things up, briefings to top lobby hacks earlier this afternoon confirmed that the Prime Minister has — with incredible timing — made the final decision to scrap the HS2 leg to Manchester, prompting fury and disbelief from Andy Burnham and other local leaders. We get stuck into all that drama below.
Over the weekend: Jack looked into the curious case of the Manchester Zoo: plans for a 150-acre wildlife park in Rochdale that vanished, along with the man behind the idea, after family money that was meant to fund the project fell through. You can read that here.
And on Friday, we broke the news that the Arts Council — the body which dishes out taxpayer’s money to fund cultural activities — is investigating the organisation behind the Old Courts in Wigan after it ran into serious financial trouble. How can an organisation that has been lavished with public cash from the Arts Council, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Wigan Council be running out of money — with allegations of artists being paid late or not at all, and key staff being laid off?
Our 2000-word story digs into those questions, and it quotes an interesting passage in a document prepared for Greater Manchester’s Culture and Social Impact Fund Committee, which raises questions about governance and transparency. Don’t forget, the Old Courts has been getting £200,000 a year from the combined authority. The document says:
Despite several reminders and extensions Old Courts Wigan were unable to provide reporting in time for the preparation of this report. The GMCA Culture Team is working with the Old Courts and partner funders to decide on appropriate course of action. This may result in the organisation’s next payment being withheld until the situation is resolved.
We attended the committee meeting earlier today and sadly didn’t learn any new information from it. But we are planning a deeper long read about what’s going on at the Old Courts, so if you have some information, please get in touch with Mollie. And read last week’s story (members-only) if you haven’t yet.
And finally, in this week’s podcast Joshi and Mollie talk about the Old Courts story in more depth, plus, we give you some behind-the-scenes insights into how these investigations come together. If you’d like to find out more, click this link to listen on your favoured podcasting platform.
From today’s sponsor: Fancy doing some truly sustainable shopping that also supports some of the best independent makers and designers at the same time? Now in its 16th year, The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair is back at Victoria Baths this month (Thursday 19 to Sunday 22 October) and will feature beautiful hand-made pieces from the most talented ceramicists, jewellers, textile and glass artists, print-makers, sculptors, blacksmiths and silversmiths in the land, not to mention furniture and lighting designers. As well as browsing the craft on sale and meeting the makers, there are exhibitions, craft demos and free drop-in workshops. Millers can get two tickets for the price of one by following this special link.
🌤️ This week’s weather
This week’s forecast comes from our local weatherman Martin Miles, who says we’ll enjoy some unseasonably summery weather this weekend, despite how unlikely that may sound if you’re looking out of your window right now.
Tuesday 🌦️ Feeling fresh with a mixture of sunny spells and heavy showers. Windy. Max 15C.
Wednesday 🌦️ Warmer with occasional sunny spells, and a risk of rain in north Manchester later. Breezy. Max 17C.
Thursday 🌦️ Relatively warm despite a lot of cloud. Dry but turning gradually wet during the afternoon as rain arrives from the west. Max 17C.
Friday 🌤️ Warm and mostly dry with hazy sunny spells. Max 19C.
Weekend 🌤️ Unseasonably warm with spells of autumn sunshine once early mist clears. Temperature highs in the low 20s, potentially rising to the mid 20s.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: The Tories arrive in Manchester bearing bad news
Top line: The Conservative Party’s annual conference started in Manchester yesterday, meaning that our favourite city centre drinking holes are rammed with anxious thirtysomething men in identical navy blue suits. We’ve already had rows over the Home Secretary calling multiculturalism “toxic”, lots of calls for tax cuts from MPs nervous about the next general election, and — as ever — protests on St Peter’s Square. Let’s dive in.
Context: This year’s conference comes at a bad time for the government, with the Tories way behind in the polls and Rishi Sunak under fire for refusing to tell voters whether HS2 will reach the North of England. In the last few hours, it has been reported by leading political journalists that the Birmingham to Manchester leg will be scrapped, a supremely awkward moment for Sunak to have to announce that decision.
Responding to the news, Manchester City Council leader Bev Craig tweeted: “Coming all the way to Manchester to scrap investment to Manchester and kill levelling up. All without telling anyone in Manchester. Couldn’t make it up.”
Ghost town: Embarrassment over the HS2 timing might be contributing to a bit of a downcast vibe. “Been to almost every major party conference since 1997,” the Mail on Sunday’s columnist Dan Hodges posted yesterday. “Seen some that are quiet. Seen some that are raucous. Experienced parties drunk on power. Wallowing in hubris. Embracing oblivion and despair. But never seen anything like the Tories in Manchester 2023. A ghost town…”
Infighting: It’s not all harmonious in the Tory family this week, with jostling factions hosting fringe events around the city. Ex-PM Liz Truss wants the government to “revive Conservative values” by cutting corporation tax. After her unfunded tax cuts spooked the markets last year, Sunak’s team are said to be more cautious about what they announce, instead preferring to talk about fighting inflation, which the PM compared to a tax in itself yesterday.
One faction less concerned with taxes is the Northern Research Group, made up mostly of MPs in northern “red wall” seats. They have called on the government to establish a cabinet minister for the North, nervous about the party’s hopes of retaining their seats at next year's election. The group’s chair, John Stevenson MP for Carlisle, said:
With the north acting as kingmakers for the next election, the government must listen to northern voices. Our manifesto addresses this, presenting tangible steps that ensure the north’s vast potential is not just acknowledged but actively harnessed.
Outside the fringe events, speeches and internecine battling, there are lots of energetic protests going on, with one senior Tory watcher telling The Mill that he thinks the protestors seem to have a bit more wind in their sails this year. Activists walked around in Rishi Sunak masks carrying ministerial boxes labelled “Department of Wealth” and “Department for Food Insecurity” and on St Ann’s Square, you can find a Hell Bus, highlighting “the flagrant greenwashing of the oil industry”.
There were speeches at the Castlefield Bowl from activist groups and trades unions. “Our schools are crumbling down around our children,” said National Education Union General Secretary Daniel Kebede. “The workload of our colleagues is rocketing. Staff pay is plummeting, and child poverty is rising to abhorrent levels.”
Sacha Lord, Andy Burnham’s night time economy advisor and never one to miss an opportunity for publicity, took out a massive digital billboard behind Manchester Central (where the conference is being held) to criticise Sunak for not helping self-employed people over the pandemic. The screen read: “Ignored 3.8 million self-employed because they didn’t vote Tory,” over a picture of Sunak with his eyes coloured in red.
Bottom line: It’s always a bit of an odd moment when a deep-red city like Manchester fills up with Conservatives, but at least in past years, the party has had something to say to Manchester, whether that was George Osborne promoting the Northern Powerhouse or Boris Johnson giving speeches here about levelling up. For the governing party to come here and announce the death of a transport project that many economists believe is critical to the competitiveness of northern cities is a bizarre turn of events. One source wonders whether next year they might avoid this awkwardness and decamp to a more traditional conference location like Blackpool.
Your Mill briefing
Today was the Greater Manchester Green Summit. A number of new initiatives and projects were announced by Andy Burnham at the Lowry: The mayor is calling for “funding and flexibility” for GM to meet its goals. What are those goals? The big one is for Greater Manchester to be carbon neutral by 2038. Burnham said that is still possible but, while emissions are decreasing, they aren’t reducing “at the speed or scale required to stay within the carbon budget we set in 2019.” That’s very important. Earlier this year, we reported on how the GMCA weren’t really keeping track of their progress towards carbon neutrality. Experts we spoke to said that the carbon budget — how much carbon GM emits before 2038 — is more important than becoming carbon neutral by then.
Worth a read: This great feature from the Guardian’s northern correspondent Helen Pidd, who visited the residents of Ringway, a hamlet just outside Greater Manchester named after the original airport there, whose residents were warned a decade ago that they will need to sell their properties to make way for HS2. “For God’s sake, we’re up, we’re down, we’re not moving, we are moving. It’s torture. I’m on anxiety tablets because of it.”
A Mill chimney in Oldham has been demolished to make way for new homes. Hartford Mill was opened in 1907 and produced cotton until the 1950s, but Oldham Council said the building had become “an anti-social behaviour hotspot, covered in graffiti and surrounded by fly-tipping”.
Finally: There will be almost no trains running on Wednesday, anywhere in the UK. Members of the Aslef union are targeting their strike with the end of the Conservative party conference, so unless he gets a plane or helicopter home, Sunak might be stuck here for longer than he wishes.
Home of the week
This lovely three bedroom end-of-terrace in Saddleworth has sweeping views of the moorlands of the Pennines. It’s on the market for £340,000.
Our favourite reads
Hulme Crescents is best known as the sprawling 1970s housing estate that became saddled with crime and antisocial behaviour, but it was also an unlikely incubator for a new wave of British music, as this piece — and a million other similar pieces over the years — have noted. “I knew people going to Amsterdam and Berlin who found it boring because Hulme was such a bonkers place,” recalls the DJ Luke Una. “I don’t think anything has been more profound in affecting the cultural sphere and journey of Manchester than Hulme.”
First Meta’s London HQ, now Canary Wharf — why offices are still unoccupied — The Sunday Times
“At lunchtime on a Thursday you would expect Manchester’s Spinningfields commercial district to be lively, but last week, the main plaza was deserted as Paul Elliot waited for clients to arrive for a meeting. As with a number of towns and cities around the UK, many of its white collar staff have joined the army of those working from home rather than trekking into the office…” This story takes a look at how city centre office spaces have emptied out since the pandemic and why bosses might be struggling to lure workers back.
In a new study from a team of researchers from the University of Manchester and the University of Victoria in Canada, the James Webb Space Telescope has discovered that an “unprecedented number” of disc-like galaxies similar to the Milky Way existed over 10 billion years ago. “The fact that they existed in the early universe, in much greater quantities than previously thought, could mean many more opportunities for the development of alien life.”
Paying in sweat — The Fence
And finally, a very entertaining feature from our friends at The Fence about the state of British sauna culture, which dedicates the lion’s share of the piece to affectionately taking the piss out of the clientele of Withington Baths. “They are not here for recreation, no, they are here to compete in the Withington Baths Sauna’s Unofficial Endurance Competition, where the men sit on the highest, hottest perch with their heads between their legs, seconds from passing out, refusing to be the first to leave. This is English relaxation at its finest.”
From today’s sponsor: As part of Retrofit Action Week, The Home Upgrade Show (13-14 October) in the beautiful Victoria Baths is an unmissable event for anyone looking to create a greener, healthier and more energy-efficient home. It will include “Ask an architect” sessions, a heat pump clinic and advice on how to phase a “deep retrofit”. Go ahead and register for free.
Our to do list
🎨 There’s a new exhibition at HOME to celebrate Black History Month 2023. It features the work of artist Jessica Ilatoda, who has created striking portraits of fearless Black women. More here.
🎸 You can enjoy a variety of musical styles and genres at this free jam night at Band on the Wall on Tuesday evening, which promises to “create a nurturing environment for up-and-coming artists”. More here.
🎶 A string quartet from the prestigious Royal Northern College of Music will be performing a selection of pieces by Mozart in the lovely St Ann’s Church on Wednesday lunchtime. More here.
👪 If you’re stuck for things to do with the kids, Factory International might have the answer. The team behind Born to be Wild Child, best known for kid-friendly rock ‘n’ roll gigs and art classes, are hosting free, creative drop-in sessions every week throughout October. More here.
🎞️ It’s Bolton International Film Festival this week, which has an incredible line-up, including the political short film One Foot In Front Of The Other, which explores Bolton’s history of protest and trespass, and a selection of campaigning documentaries about climate change. It’s on until Sunday, and you can view the rest of the line-up here.
🖼️ Head over to Neighbourhood Gallery, a new contemporary art gallery in Sale, for its opening night, which promises free drinks all evening and a preview of its first exhibition, Evolving Horizons, which showcases the work of landscape artists. More here.
🎻 The Long 40s, a classical chamber music four-piece, are performing a selection of Germanic and Anglophone pieces at the Anthony Burgess Centre on Friday night from 7pm. Tickets here.
📚 It’s Manchester Literature Festival this weekend, which promises an exciting line-up of world-class writers and emerging talent. There’s plenty to choose from this weekend, but we particularly like the sound of acclaimed author Deborah Levy’s discussion about her latest novel, and Booker Prize-longlisted author Max Porter’s talk on his new coming-of-age novel.