Isabel Hardman

Burnham’s war won’t end any time soon

Burnham's war won't end any time soon
(CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/AFP via Getty Images)
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Who will win in the stand-off between Downing Street and Greater Manchester leaders over Covid restrictions? At first glance, it seems as though central government will inevitably emerge victorious, given ministers have the power to unilaterally impose tier-three restrictions on the area. Last night Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick threatened to do just that, saying: 

There are now more Covid-19 patients in Greater Manchester hospitals than in the whole of the South West and South East combined. But, unfortunately, despite recognising the gravity of the situation, local leaders have been so far unwilling to take the action that is required to get this situation under control. I have written to local leaders this evening to make clear that if we cannot reach agreement by midday tomorrow then I must advise the Prime Minister that despite our best endeavours we’ve been unable to reach agreement. It’s not too late for local leaders to work with us to take action for the sake of the people of Greater Manchester.

Andy Burnham hit back this morning at what he told the Today programme was a ‘provocative’ move that ignored the fact that Greater Manchester had been under some form of lockdown for three months. It was a very Burnham-esque interview, with the Mayor of Greater Manchester saying he was trying to stand up for the sort of people who Westminster politicians tend to ignore. He then pointed out that London officials were also calling for support after being put into tier two. It wasn’t just about controlling the spread of coronavirus, he argued, but wider public health issues including the risk of ‘a mental health crisis on top of a pandemic’.

Burnham might not win this particular battle to get proper financial support in place for areas affected by tier three. But he could yet win the war as this isn’t just about who has the power to impose restrictions. It’s also about a sense of who is on the side of the people, particularly in the North which has been harder hit by local lockdowns in recent months. His very 1980s language last week underlined the political risk to the Tories, something their own MPs in the area recognise.

This is a much longer war of words. Centrally the Conservatives are trying to paint Burnham and his fellow local leaders as being reckless to the point of filling hospitals far beyond their capacity. Things are likely to get even uglier in the coming days.

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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