What happened when Raja Miah’s prophecy failed?
After a report dismisses claims of mass grooming and sinister cover-ups in Oldham, how have the true believers responded?
Dear Millers — welcome to a bumper edition of The Mill, in which we bring you a veritable feast of useful, interesting and delightful words about this great city, including:
Dani’s review of a sensational photography exhibition, which we highly recommend you try to catch this weekend.
Joshi’s write-up of how Raja Miah and his supporters have reacted to the big Oldham CSE report, with reference to an influential piece of social psychology about a “UFO religion” in 1950s Chicago.
Some great pictures and words from our very successful second birthday members’ event this week.
And your To Do list for the weekend, including an all-weekend festival celebrating the culture of the Székler people, a group of ethnic Hungarians living in Transylvania.
As always, our end-of-week editions are for Mill members, and regular Millers can just read the top of the email. Join up now to read the whole edition, get all our work and support one of the great success stories in British media, built right here in Manchester. We now have 1,376 members, so we’re closing in on our target of reaching 1,500 this summer. The kind of journalism we do takes a lot of time, and our approach involves plenty of editing, fact-checking and sometimes legal advice too, so if you’re on our free list, please think about joining up now for £7 a month.
Your Mill briefing
Two by-election defeats last night have put the Conservative party back into panic mode, with the party’s chairman Oliver Dowden resigning early this morning. The party lost to the biggest ever by-election swing in Tiverton and Honiton, but we were keeping a closer eye on the result in Wakefield, where they suffered a 12.7% swing as they lost the seat to Labour. By-elections aren’t always a reliable guide to General Elections, but it’s worth remembering that the Tories picked up a clutch of Greater Manchester seats at the last election with very small margins (see this chart by students at MMU). A similar swing to Labour (or the Lib Dems when it comes to Cheadle) would see the Conservatives losing Heywood and Middleton, Cheadle, Bolton West, Bolton North East, Bury North, and Leigh (Bury South has already gone back to Labour via Christian Wakeford’s defection).
It was the second day of the RMT’s national rail strike yesterday and another one is planned for tomorrow. Figures published by TomTom found that 9am traffic in Manchester was up only 2% on last week. And it appears the rail strikers have the support of Manchester's Labour politicians. Andy Burnham said "I'm never going to be a politician that criticises anyone for fighting for their income," and Salford and Eccles MP Rebecca Long-Bailey and Stockport MP Navendu Mishra both joined picket lines on Tuesday. Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley and Broughton, said the RMT have a "completely justified case" to take industrial action.
Manchester has been ranked the 28th best city to live in. The Global Livability Index, produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, assessed a total of 172 cities and placed Manchester ahead of London, Los Angeles and Barcelona. Cities were assessed on their stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.
Manchester City Council is buying Wythenshawe’s shopping centre, it was announced today. The council says the purchase will allow it to drive forward the area’s regeneration, and Gavin White, the council’s executive member for housing and development, is promising “a transformational redevelopment for the centre and for local people”.
And finally, longtime Miller Lucy Ward is receiving great reviews for her new book about how Catherine the Great joined forces with a Quaker doctor from Essex to spearhead one of the first global public health campaigns. This week’s Times Literary Supplement calls it “lively and informative”. Buy The Empress and the English Doctor: How Catherine the Great defied a deadly virus from Bookshop.org or Amazon.
🍰 The Mill turns two
By Dani Cole
On Wednesday night, we had the pleasure of finally meeting some of you at our 2nd birthday bash. More than 50 members packed into the Anthony Burgess Centre for a lovely evening that featured lots of positivity, drinks and interesting discussion about journalism and Manchester.
Jack and his former MMU lecturer Pete Murray kicked off the event by talking about Jack’s investigation into Mana, and took questions from the audience about safeguarding sources and why it mattered to represent the perspective of hospitality workers. Then Joshi gave a speech about the thinking behind The Mill, and Dani and Mollie took questions on stage.
“Thank you for the plant [we gave out “Chinese money plants” we’ve grown from cuttings in the office] and a brilliant evening event,” one member wrote to us yesterday. “Last night it felt like I was in one of the moments that will be of historical importance one day. Hell yes to more scrutiny, deeper reporting and the Mill style.”
We caught up with a few of our members and asked them why they liked The Mill, how they discovered us, and whether they had any favourite pieces. Thanks again to everyone who came, and apologies if we didn’t get the chance to speak to all of you — we’ll just have to organise another party.
Cos, how did you come across The Mill? Through Googling Richard Leese when I was in Budapest, and discovering this wonderful long-form article. I knew some bits and pieces about Richard Leese, but this [article] put it all together, added a lot more, and it was a compassionate, interesting read.
Anna, do you have a favourite Mill read? The article that stands out to me, is the ginnel gardens, which took me to a place that I had an image in my head of because it was where Oasis grew up and I probably thought it was a bit of a rough area. I’d never been there, but to hear about this amazing community, and all these interactions between neighbours in this place, and the beauty and cohesiveness which wasn’t too far from where I lived, was really nice.
What happened when Raja Miah’s prophecy failed?
By Joshi Herrmann
In mid-1950s Chicago, a housewife called Dorothy Martin prophesied that a flood would destroy vast swathes of the world on a specific date, and soon attracted a band of believers. “The Seekers” thought they were going to be saved from the flood by a spaceship and began preparing for its arrival. Martin’s “UFO religion” was observed at close quarters by the social psychologists Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken and Stanley Schachter, who infiltrated the group pretending to be believers because they wanted to see what happened when the prophecy about the flood and spaceship didn’t come to pass.
As midnight approached on the appointed night, the group members began removing metallic items from their bra straps and zips to be ready for their spaceship ride. Immediately after midnight, when nothing had occurred, the believers were shocked into silence. But in the days that followed, Festinger and his fellow researchers noticed that many of the most committed Seekers became more fervent in their beliefs, not less, and quickly came up with reasons why the apocalypse had been delayed.
The researchers turned the episode into a classic book called When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the Destruction of the World. It argued that the members became more evangelical in order to reduce the “cognitive dissonance” created by the stark gap between what they believed was going to happen and what actually happened. "If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must after all be correct,” was how the authors of the book explained that behaviour.
I got thinking about that study this week, after the publication of the independent review into historic child sexual exploitation (known as CSE) in Oldham. As we reported on Monday, the 200-page review identified serious failings by both the police and Oldham Council, including the particularly heartbreaking story of how a woman referred to “Sophie” was let down in 2006, at which time she was raped by a string of men. That story led to apologies from Andy Burnham, the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police and the council’s new leader Amanda Chadderton.
But what the review didn’t identify was any evidence that might substantiate the key claims made by Raja Miah, the activist whose online campaigning has contributed to the downfall of two council leaders in two years. Miah’s entire project is predicated on two things being true. One, that there has been very widespread grooming of white girls by Asian men in Oldham, on the scale we saw in places like Rochdale, Rotherham and Telford. Two, that the abuse was allowed to take place by the Labour council, which knowingly looked the other way in order to secure the favour of “cartels” who control large blocks of Asian votes. This week’s report dismantled those claims.
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