So here we are in Manchester’s town hall, the famous neo gothic pile that sits in the city centre. We are anticipating an historical moment. Maybe one like, in 1905, that created a stir when Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney interrupted a political meeting in Manchester at the Free Trade HallÃÂ to ask two Liberal politicians (Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey) if they believed women should have the right to vote.
The Liberals these days are the Libdems- a curious, soon to be forgotten footnote in British politics- forever remembered as the creepy kids hanging round with the school bullies whose leader Nick Clegg ended up in the shadow cabinet and not much else.
Back in the town hall you can feel the anger. Everything is getting cut and slashed. That’s the way the Tories want it. Especially if it’s in the north. And out of the way.
Still it can’t happen in Manchester- the radical city of Victorian times, the city of Karl Marx, suffragettes and taking a stand against those stuck up Walters and their boss pleasing policies.
The room is full of creaking councillors debating the proposed Tory cuts to the Manchester budget and whether they should implement them or not. The public gallery is packed, so packed that it takes a bit of hustling to get in. A bit like going to a gig and pulling the guest list trick.
It’s intense in here. The bankers have caused a worldwide meltdown and while they are collecting their latest bonuses frontline services in cities across the UK are under threat. Services for the old and poor are on shaky ground and the poverty trap is getting meaner and meaner.
The protesters who fill the gallery argue that the corporate glow of the city centre is all very grand and events like Manchester International Festival are all very good but the money should be for the less well off- afterall that’s what socialism (remember that word) is all about. They feel that the Labour majority presiding over what was once the worlds’ most radical city should be protecting the poor.
There is also a weary head nodding acceptance that this is just not going to happen.
I sit in the gallery and look at the councillors. What a strange breed they are. They look like they have escaped from an Alan Bleasdale eighties drama about council corruption. It’s nearly all men- a sea of bad ill fitting suits, slipshod hair and well fed girths- like the cast of League Of Gentlemen meeting the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest on a night out in the seventies.
After a couple of hours of short speeches from the councillors over the muffled PA that sounds like it was robbed from a 1973 arts and crafts jamboree they come to the vote.
As the vote goes through the room is a cacophony of chanting and anger, it’s quite thrilling- a real adrenaline rush- like a ruck at a seventies football match- where no-one actually gets thumped but there is a tingle in the air. This is democracy in action, accept it will change nothing.
The tension in the room racks up and the council votes in the cuts. The fury explodes with people shouting ”Ëwhy are you doing the Tories dirty work’ ”Ëshame on you’ as the councillors shuffle shamefaced past the infuriated protestors.
A couple of the councillors including Basil Curley actually stay behind to argue with the protestors and gain instant respect for being prepared to stand their ground. One is a woman and as she challengers the views of the protestors another councillor shouts at the protestors. Her cackling, hectoring comment is ÃÂ ”Ëyou should not speak to woman like that, it’s sexist’, a bizarre piece of political arrogance and deliberate misreading of the situation that craftily swerves the issue and makes up an irrelevant new one and sums up the out of touch patronising stance of her kind.
A wag retorts silencing the councillor, ”Ëshe’s not a woman, she’s a councillor and she should stand up for what she believes in.’
Belief, that’s an odd, old word. There was a time when Labour would stand up to the Etonians. This was a guilt edged opportunity with TV cameras in the room to make that stand and refuse the Tory cuts.
Someone else stares into the ether, ”Ëwhat’s the point in having a Labour party”Â¦’ they mutter to no-one in particular…