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 Hall to ask two Liberal politicians (Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey) if they believed women should have the right to vote.

Riot! Manchester council pass £109m of budget cuts – we were at the meeting

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 ”Ëœwhy are you doing the Tories dirty work’ ”Ëœshame 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  ”Ëœyou 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, ”Ëœshe’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, ”Ëœwhat’s the point in having a Labour party”¦’ they mutter to no-one in particular…

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. It’s horrible, for sure. I’ve campaigned and marched against Tories all my life and as you rightly say they have once again intent on making the poor and the North suffer disportionately. I would love to know what alternatives action you think the Council should have taken?

    I am no blinkered fan of the Council and have watched them too often I think place power in the hands of property owners and big business over the years but in the last month I have watched the Council’s consultation process take place and nowhere have I seen a viable real world alternative to what they have proposed.

    It’s very punk of course to imply that the Council should just stick two fingers up a the Government, but they are legally obliged to set a budget and can only spend what they’re given (which is £109m less than last year). So there had to be cuts. As it happens, it looks like the 2000 redundancies they’ve been forced to make from the Council will be voluntary.

    The history of Councils who refused the set budgets or went on some kamikaze journey of resistance isn’t god; Liverpool in the 1980s?? Lots of grandstanding and f*ck you gestures but in the end Derek Hatton ended-up sending sacking people by sending P45s around in taxis and there was never any evidence that their action “protected the poor”.

    The Council delivers some funding to the Manchester International Festival but is a long way short of being its only funder and every independent analysis has shown that the city gets far far more back in tourism and spend as a result of the Festival than the Council givs in funding. So it’s a net win for the citizens. In addition to being a fun cultural event, which even in dark times it would be nice to hang onto.

    I love you having a go at the Councillors for their weird hair and ill-fitting suits, Mr John Robb, being a bit renowned for much the same yerself!

    Hope you don’t mind me posting all this on the site.

    Take care young man.


  2. So speaks Dave Haslam, employed by Manchester International Festival and the voice of the monied establishment. I think the blog says the council should have applied the cuts with a bit more care and attention to the poorer communities and maybe less on the city centre elite.

    I wasn’t at the meeting but as a life long Labour voter I’m continually let down by their antics.

    I’m not sure what is meant by ‘The history of Councils who refused the set budgets or went on some kamikaze journey of resistance isn\’t god;’ but it sounds interesting…

  3. Dave is absolutely right, it would be wholly irresponsible to try and pass an illegal budget. All that would happen is Pickles would send in his henchmen to make the cuts instead and then the worst off really would be buggered. Councils like Lambeth are still paying off millions in debt from the last time reckless councils tried that trick.

    As for funding for events like MIF at the expense of support for the less well off, this is a false argument. MIF is a huge revenue earner for the council and even more money would be lost were the council to heed the short-sighted calls of opportunistic Lib Dem councillors and cut funding for such events.

    I think it should be clear that no councillor wants to vote through such damaging cuts, but lets not forget that the real enemy is the government who is pulling the strings and forcing this on councils.

  4. Monied? Ha ha I wish.

    I’m not directly employed by the Festival but with enough involvement and knowledge to know it ain’t the enemy Kev, and as I point out, it actually creates cash for the city. It also gives people jobs, it encourages the participation of 300 volunteers, it helps those of us who’ve worked in the city for twenty or thirty years an opportunity to present work to a local, national and international audience.

    As I say, I’m not a blinkered fan of the Council, but what’s the alternative? Doing a Derek Hatton / Militant type stance? If you’re a Labour supporter Kev you’ll know the downsides of this (which is what I meant by the “kamikaze journey of resistance”).

    I am sure the Council have done their best to reduce the impact on poorer communities. What evidence have you got that they haven’t? Or where would you propose £109m of cuts?

  5. Of course I ultimately blame the Tories- there are no easy answers but I would like to see someone take a stand against them. they are a weak government- the weakest in my lifetime.

    Maybe it’s not for the council to do this, but who else will?

    As for the MIF, I always have fun at the Manchester International Festival and I’m not on their payroll atall. I think people are worried that the money is perceived to go to the MIF when it could go to vulnerable people- but that may be a misconception.Maybe MIF doesn’t cost very much.

  6. Ok yes we feel betrayed today by:

    a) the tories who we knew were going to impose drastic cuts anyway

    b) a so called socialist local government implementing those cuts as they are obliged to. Or are they? Yes they could have said no to the budget meeting today and adjourned for 21 days but they didnt…..makes you wonder whats really going on

    What i object to is how the local government think their seat is so safe they can be arrogant enough to think that to waste OUR money is somehow acceptable?

    Well its not and THEY are accountable to us the electorate who vote them in.

    Heres an example of the kind of waste:
    24m on a BMX centre in case we win a gold at the Olympics who cares frankly? The poor kids deprived of a library surely don’t……..oh the dilapidated pool there too thats going to be axed. Another non essential at great cost to taxpayers…

    Heres another waste an overprices underused “tourist attraction”…..

    “The company that operates the Manchester Big Wheel in Exchange Square owed the council more than £100,000 when it went into administration.” (source: Manchester Confidential)

    Why is Manchester the child poverty capital when so much money is pooring into the city through private enterprise? Clearly its not filtering down to the indigenous communities as theres no profit in this is there??? Must be some impropriety somewhere there?

    Why is 19m being put towards relocating the Cornerhouse cinema from Oxford Road to “First Street”? This was cut and dried in December…..knowing cuts might be on the horizon! Hardlt prudent eh?

    The bridge between Harvey Nicks and Arndale is defective and Corporation has been closed for 6 months the council have to pay 265k to get it fixed. Why is it defective after only a short period of being built? is it not insured who were the contractors? More money mismanagement…

    i could go on, but feel betrayed and miffed today at the cuts not least those at Surestart as the under 5’s and OAPs luncheon clubs being put out to private tender just aint right, again the most vulnerable hit who cant fight back. Its no good playing the blame game someone has to take responsibility in this city too. Will the Chief Executive on 232k be affected in any of this? a pay cut gesture would be something eh?

    Your vote. You decide.

  7. Not sure who this Dave Haslam person is but he sounds like he works for the council. Careful mate, they will be after your job next.
    The council have never really supported local bands but are always happy to bask in their glory.

  8. Sorry guys BUT … the reason there are cuts are because Labour spent OUR money (66 new taxes) on Iraq, Afghanistan, Quantative Easing (where they could not tell us how much money this was OR what the measurable improvements from this were) and bailing out the banks. We would surely have had to go through a similar gruelling reduction had they won the election ? I’m not saying I agree, I’m saying that surely the reasons are clear. As less money goes into the communual ‘pot’ and more people demand to receive from that ‘pot’ what would YOU do ? How do you convert record revenues into record debts ? By completely overspending.

  9. I think he looks flippin’ gorgeous in his suits, but I still think it’s possible to describe them as “ill-fitting” in the sense that they’re not quite what one would expect from a well-fitting suit. If the councillors are wearing “bad” ill-fitting suits, maybe John’s should be described as “good” ill-fitting suits. Is that a suit-able compromise?

    • thanks Dave, I’m blushing, sort of.

      I think we basically agree on this cuts situation give or take a few details…


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