As a student in Manchester one quickly becomes accustomed to many things about the bustling city. You would do well, for example, to avoid the packed 42 bus along Wilmslow Road during rush hour, gravy on chips is far more delectable than it looks and you need your wits about you at all times to avoid the Metrolink trams in Piccadilly Gardens.
The rivalry between Mancunians and their Liverpudlian counterparts down the M62, is another such staple of everyday life in Greater Manchester. Whether it be in pub conversations about music and football, or even in civic architecture, with Manchester’s Town Hall built with the intention of outshining Liverpool’s equivalent, the two regions rarely see eye to eye.
In 2017, however, Aintree-born politician Andy Burnham became the Mayor of Greater Manchester. Despite his family roots on Merseyside and his love for Everton Football Club, Burnham had forged strong links in Manchester as a teenager and later represented Leigh as an MP. His victory speech set the tone for his tenure as Mayor, criticising the “London-centric” political landscape, claiming his victory was “the dawn of a new era”, as he told the people of Greater Manchester “I won’t let you down.”
One of Burnham’s key focuses from the outset has been homelessness, which had risen to 5,564 people in Greater Manchester in the year he assumed office. The new mayor pledged to donate 15% of his wages to combat homelessness, and his charity has raised over £2 million in recent years. Whilst his ‘A Bed Every Night’ scheme has come under fire for not reaching its ambitious targets, in the inaugural year of this project, 817 people secured long-term housing and over 2,200 rough sleepers gained access to temporary accommodation. The concerted attempts of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to house those who have fallen on hard times shows Burnham’s commitment to delivering on the promises he made in 2017.
A cynic may argue, however, that delivering on promises are not necessarily always what makes a successful leader. Instead, leaders are often defined by how they react to unforeseen challenges. On the 22nd May 2017, three weeks after the Mayoral Election, Manchester was plunged into one of its darkest days. An atrocious attack at Manchester Arena killed 22 innocent concert-goers and injured hundreds more. Led by Burnham, Greater Manchester reacted with bravery, dignity and, most importantly, unity. This was no more apparent than with the ‘vigil of peace’, which Andy Burnham organised the following evening, with thousands attending in a show of solidarity and defiance. His reassuring words in the days that followed comforted a wounded region, uniting a population that many sought to divide. Despite his infancy in the post, the way Burnham led the region through this tragedy was exemplary and it is no surprise, then, that the people of Greater Manchester took to this composed and compassionate Mayor instantly.
Burnham’s ability to lead at a time of crisis once again came to the fore in recent weeks. The city region was placed under the Tier 3 coronavirus alert level, a decision the Mayor did not explicitly object. What the Liverpool-born politician did take exception too, however, was the low-balling of the government in offering a financial package for the people of Greater Manchester and their businesses. One could search extensively and struggle to find a more authentic, raw and passionate political moment than when Burnham was informed live on air that government officials had rejected the £65 million deal that he believed was the minimum ‘to prevent poverty, to prevent hardship, to prevent homelessness.’
In the face of this ruthless Government, who this week voted down Manchester United star Marcus Rashford’s plea to extend the free school meal scheme, Andy Burnham has stood firm, keeping his principles at the very centre of all political decisions. The current Cabinet has picked many unnecessary fights in recent months but like the brilliant Rashford, Andy Burnham has proved a formidable opponent.
Speaking to Silver Linings, Labour Councillor for Old Moat Garry Bridges told us of Burnham’s desire to “stand up for the best interest of the people of Greater Manchester.” When asked of Andy Burnham’s popular, Bridges seemed unsurprised that Mancunians have taken to the Mayor as “he is someone who people look at and think he understands the issues they are facing and is prepared to speak up for them.”
The Liverpudlian has been dubbed the ‘King of the North’ online, as his devolutionary approach has given a voice to the people of Greater Manchester. Whilst his background may ordinarily put him at odds with many Mancunians, making him a living, breathing North-Western antithesis, Andy Burnham has not accepted the disdain that the Conservative Government have shown towards the region. When encountered with some of the most sizeable obstacles that Greater Manchester has ever faced, Burnham has displayed a pioneering leadership, showing the traits of defiance, assurance and ambition that Mancunians have long been associated with.