As some regular citizens may know, I relocated the Republic to Manchester a couple of months ago. As one of nature’s drifters peripatetics, I am having tremendous fun working out how I fit in here, what I like (the civilised scale of things, rent prices, access to countryside, food markets, trains) and what I don’t (surburban pubs, rain, buses, the lack of decent civic architecture in the centre).
And it seems particularly irksome that, just as I am settling in and getting to like the place, the government has decided to start throwing buckets of shit all over it. Is there anything, any corner of my modest little life that the Labour Party isn’t determined to cover in crap? They’ve overseen the housing bubble that forces me to continue as a feckless renter at an age when I am really starting to see the point of gardening, they’ve presided over the recession that has taken three quarters of my freelance work away, they took my precious 10p band off me, they’re freely murdering the pubs I like drinking in, and as a continuation of that they’ve made absolutely everyone under thirty who likes a drink or two feel just a little bit like a stain on society. Well, fuck you very much. And that’s just how I feel. I haven’t even had to pay tuition fees, lose a job or be on the wrong end of a stop and search procedure.
But I digress. Manchester always seems to be first in line when real policy turds are being handed out at Whitehall. Congestion charge? We’ll try it in Manchester. Bizarre terror propaganda to be trialled in hairdressers? Hm, tricky, the south-east would never wear that, we’d have London up in arms – give it to Manchester. ID cards? Haha, let those Mancs have it, they swallow any old crap.
But there is at least some potential for this to backfire on the beleaguered government, horribly horribly. This Manchester ID cards trial, which begins in the autumn, is a “voluntary scheme”, for all love, which involves paying £30 to the government! Oh yeah, well, you’ve convinced me. Yes, it’s completely reasonable for a Minister who claimed her bath plug on expenses to sit in an office in London and decide that an entire city in the great big Not London area will be only too pleased to cough up thirty quid per head in the middle of a recession in order to make their identities slightly more vulnerable to theft. Of course!
Seriously, who in Whitehall decided that the best people to make that sort of imposition on were – saving your presences – a bunch of chippy northerners?
This is so not going to work. You know the old saying, “Tha can allus tell a Yorkshireman, but tha can’t tell ‘en much”? Well, the Greater Manchester version seems, on my acquaintance so far, to be subtly different, and more along the lines of “Yer want me to do wha’? Ah, jus’ sod off, yer fookin ponce.”
This is a population with a fierce civic pride and a radical political tradition as well as all the usual northern jumpiness about being ruled from London. That mix and the destruction to manufacturing meted out by Thatcher have traditionally made it a Labour stronghold, which is presumably why it’s now first in line for the buckets-of-shit approach to policy piloting.
(Another probable rationale for using Manchester as a guinea pig that occurs to me – and I hope the person who “strategised” this one rots in whatever hells may be – is that Manchester is almost unique outside London for having been on the receiving end of a terrorism incident within living memory. Do they think Mancunians will be more receptive to the “it stops terrorists” line?)
Anyway, that very same mix that made Manchester a Labour stronghold could just be the mix that spits the ID card scheme back in the government’s face. To date there are 77 comments on the Manchester Evening News item on the subject, two of which are in favour of ID cards. Elsewhere, the MEN repoorts that pilots at Manchester airport, who have been chosen as a special treat to be the compulsory guinea pigs, will boycott ID cards “with all legal means possible”.
It’s a great early sign, and there are others. The congestion charge was slung out without ceremony, Manchester No2ID has a particularly active branch here with regular information stalls in the city centre and MEN often comes across as a very liberal newspaper.
Yet I am, to be honest, writing this in more a state of hope than of certainty. I don’t know this place well enough yet to take its cultural temperature accurately. We won’t get a referendum on this one – we’ll need to do more than just turn up and put the cross in the “No fookin way” box. A lot of people will have to be sufficiently committed to actively object, and spread the word about the problems ID cards represent.
I know damn well what Londoners would make of having this forced on them. But will the Mancs be up for it, really be up for giving this the reception it deserves? Don’t tell me you’re going to let some bloody southerner be angrier than you…