(By Kaitlyn Brockley, Erin Cook, Sam Follin and Mia Stanley - Future Journalists Elective students)
It’s been a busy year for the Mayor of Greater Manchester. In the gloomy depths of current politics, Andy Burnham has served as a beacon of hope. He has been described as the “King of Greater Manchester” and ran for Labour Leader back in 2015 which he closely missed out on. Since then Andy has earned the status of a local and regional hero.
From a young age, Andy had always wanted to be a journalist interviewing others. But in an exclusive interview with SJR journalism students, he was the one being interviewed on issues such as inequality, the North/South divide and Everton FCs recent performance.
On Manchester being moved into tier three restrictions, he was not pleased. He told us, “I’m frustrated… As I see it, if the North has high cases just we go into restrictions, if the South has high cases, we all go under restrictions.”
He explained, “Earlier in the year we went under restrictions and Matt Hancock rang me and asked if I was willing to back these restrictions as cases are growing. They weren’t in Wigan but were in Greater Manchester, so I understood. But then a few months later with no extra support, they were trying to increase them to tier three and they weren’t going to give people a full furlough. So I texted Matt and explained how we can’t keep piling restrictions on and basically getting nothing back, so I threatened to oppose.
“I feel I would have been letting people in Greater Manchester down if I hadn’t had done anything so opposed,” he went on. “If I don’t think it’s right or fair then I think I’ve got a duty to stand up and say no and that’s when I went public and said that they were doing things wrong. I would have rather it had been done in a much more constructive way.” This sentence echoes the feelings across the North of England, and has many rallying for him to try for the Labour leadership role again, although he admits he feels he is a “better politician where I am now”.
“There has always been a huge gap between the lives of those at the very bottom and the lives of those at the very top,” he told us. “It’s always been big, but now it’s almost unbridgeable” He explained his thoughts on Covid-19 widening this gap, explaining that when we were given the message ‘stay at home’ many of us couldn’t: “In a borough like ours, most people had to go to work to earn money… whilst the other half sat at home comfortably on zoom calls.”
Hand in hand with the inequality of the UK comes the North/South divide. “I definitely think that the way the government has handled Coronavirus has worsened the divide,” Andy said. He told us that the amount of time the North has spent under restrictions has a chokehold on our businesses and that we haven’t received the support necessary to cater for that, echoing the words he’s been saying for many months in a fight for ‘Britain’s second capital’.
He also spoke of a time when he felt the north/south divide: when he first arrived at Cambridge University. He spoke of the “other world he didn’t know existed,” and how a “posh bloke” had offered him a glass of sherry on his arrival. He urged us to, “get beyond that intimidating first impression and have that inner confidence,” a sentence that will resonate with many.
Andy expressed his genuine and honest opinions throughout the interview and after answering all our questions, left the call to go about his day fighting for the whole of Manchester once again. At a time when the North feels ignored by the government, Andy Burnham has fiercely fought our corner. When life moves on and things return to normal, the North will remember…