Northern overexposure

‘The shortest way out of Manchester,’ it used to be said, ‘is notoriously a bottle of Gordon’s gin.’ But that was a long time ago, when ‘Cottonopolis’ was the pivot of the Industrial Revolution, the British empire was expanding and life was cheaper. They tend not to drink gin any more in the bars on Deansgate. It’s cocktails, a tenner a pop. The hub of George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is a much-changed city. Now they’re queuing to get in, even though the super-duper HS2 rail link may go no further than Crewe, which is in Cheshire, and only southerners think Cheshire is in the north. Andy Burnham is the latest

Can Andy Burnham actually win Greater Manchester’s mayoral election?

After months of local campaigning, backbiting and press releasing, the Greater Manchester mayoral election has finally piqued the national attention. Andy Burnham’s apparently sudden declaration he will run for the role has thrust the race into the limelight. There may be more than a hint of cockiness to his claim that the competition needs a ‘big name’ to raise its profile, but there is also more than a hint of truth. Unlike the London race, there has so far been little momentum to its poorer northern relative. But for Andy Burnham the question that really matters, given that the Labour candidacy is likely to determine who becomes mayor of 2.5m people next year,

Don’t cry for John Terry

Just when you were thinking that the Premier League had become a much nicer place without José Mourinho in it, here comes another old friend from Stamford Bridge who can be relied on to pollute the atmosphere. Yes, it’s John Terry again, JT, Captain, Leader, Legend, who issued a tear-stained farewell saying Chelsea didn’t want him any more (sob), it couldn’t be a fairytale ending (sob), and he wasn’t going to retire at Chelsea (hysterical weeping). But so loyal was he that he couldn’t possibly be going to another Premier League club (stately music and solemn applause). Oh please, what a load of tosh. This was Terry, in his inimitable

Diary – 26 November 2015

Scientists are experimenting with growing replacement vocal cords in the lab, as well as transplanting them from dogs. That was the Sun’s imaginative angle on my somewhat croaky debut as a Today programme presenter (only one of mine is working properly). It led me to ponder which species of donor would be fitting for my new role. Rottweiler? Too aggressive. Terrier, perhaps? Annoying after a while. Maybe a shepherd or a pointer would fit better with the mission to explain? All suggestions gratefully received. Bar one, that is. Husky is out. If my first programme had not been dominated by events in Paris, I had planned to talk about the

Why I’m in love with Róisín Murphy

Róisín Murphy, the Irish singer-songwriter, is currently touring Europe with her Mercury Prize-shortlisted new album, Hairless Toys. The album, with its odd disco-grooves, dub rhythms and dark, loopy synth sounds, combines pop futurism with a retrospective 1970s edge. The album is tinged with an autumnal sense of loss and the self-examination of an older woman looking back on her life. ‘The things I’ve seen’, the 42-year-old Murphy sings, in a mournful whisper. Why ‘the Irish Grace Jones’ (as Vanity Fair called Murphy) is not better known outside her native Ireland is a mystery. On stage Murphy is supremely powerful because she knows how to keep still. She thinks about the slightest raising

Spittle is the only thing Labour has left

I have started salivating excessively at night. I wake each morning in a pillowed swamp of my own effluvium, a noisome pond which is — I suspect — redolent of rapidly approaching death. I have done the hypochondriac thing and googled the possible causes and there’s a whole bunch of stuff — pancreatitis, close exposure to ionising radiation, rabies, pregnancy, serotonin disease and liver failure, to name but a few. My suspicion is it’s either rabies or pregnancy because I exhibit other symptoms common to both conditions, according to the internet. I cannot abide drinking water, for example, which suggests that I might be hydrophobic, a key indicator of rabies.

Manchester has marvellous wines, and it’s not finished yet

It will seem an ungrateful comment after the lunch which I am about to describe, but Manchester has some way to go. In the Midland Hotel, the principal Tory conference hotel and a grand edifice redolent of civic self-confidence from an earlier era, the northern powerhouse could sometimes be mistaken for a 40-watt light bulb. The business centre had been closed for the duration of the conference. The management person who told me this had enough nous to wilt under my incredulous stare. But it remained closed. At a bar, two girls struggled to do half of one girl’s work. Whenever anyone tried to pay by plastic, inaccuracy and chaos

Low life | 1 October 2015

Every morning for the past two years, on waking, I’ve reached out for the white plastic tub on the bedside table, shaken out four oval white tablets into the lid, tossed them into my mouth, and washed them down with a pint of water. Initially I counted myself lucky to be selected to take the expensive drug abiraterone for two years as part of a nationwide clinical trial. As I understand it, abiraterone turns off the adrenal glands, thereby depriving prostate cancers of their favourite nourishment, testosterone. (Presumably, I have also been without adrenaline for two years and impervious to loud bangs.) I tolerated the drug easily until about three

Letters | 20 August 2015

The morality of the A bomb Sir: In questioning whether we should celebrate VJ Day (Diary, 15 August), A.N. Wilson is confusing ‘why’ with ‘how’. The debate on the rights or wrongs of the nuclear attack will continue probably until long after the grandchildren of the last survivors have passed on. What should not be forgotten is the necessity to defeat the cruel, expansionist, militaristic regime that arose in Japan between the wars. Something happened to Japan during that period. The treatment of Allied prisoners of war and the atrocities in China during the second world war are well documented. What is less well known is the Japanese treatment of

Can the new Northern Powerhouse supremo make Leeds and Manchester work together?

A doff of my flat cap to Jim O’Neill, the former Goldman Sachs economist who has been made a peer, a Treasury minister and George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ supremo. The metro-politan media is busy trying to find reasons why this project for improved links between northern cities plus elements of devolution is a bad idea, or has ulterior motives behind it. The Guardian, for example, reports that ‘critics of’ Manchester’s Labour leader Sir Richard Leese think he has been ‘lured’ into championing Osborne’s plan ‘by the prospect of a bigger empire’; and that while Leese and his chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein have pulled off ‘breathtaking property deals’ (there’s a

The Conservatives are strategising regional media out of the grid – and it won’t help their cause

This has, I think we can all agree, been the most stage-managed election ever. Nobody on a soap box, no punches thrown, no bigoted women. Just a seamless marathon of national messaging that starts with the Today programme and ends with Newsnight. It is the regional media, however, that feels the iron grip of the parties’ media machines the most. We work where voters actually live. So how we are treated during political visits can be revealing. And Labour, most regional reporters seem to agree, seem to have chilled out. Ed Miliband and other senior Labour figures are freely giving up their time. We do get asked what sort of

Football in front, infibulation behind

I’m watching Manchester City being taken to the cleaners by Barcelona on the telly, while at the table behind me my Parisian feminist intellectual hostess Natalie is discussing female genital mutilation with her Malian girlfriend Fatou. Football in front, infibulation behind. Fatou: ‘It goes without saying: how can you say that female genital mutilation is not a disgusting and barbaric practice? How, in this day and age, can a woman allow herself to be oppressed in this medieval fashion? The practice is pure evil. The suffering of those little girls is impossible to imagine: infections, gangrene, septicaemia, cysts, fistulae, perpetual bleeding. And in the name of what? It is not

Will Gordon Brown’s critics finally admit he was right about al-Qaeda’s ‘major terrorist plot’?

There are not many things to celebrate about Gordon Brown’s time in office. He was a vilified leader; often quite rightly so. His Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, did not fare much better. However, a recent terror trial in New York showed that the criticism they received was not always deserved. On 8 April 2009, a large terrorist cell based in northwest England was arrested. The cell had been dispatched to the UK by al-Qaeda in 2006 in preparation for an attack, the majority entering the UK on bogus student visas. The plot is thought to have involved a car bomb attack against Manchester’s Arndale shopping centre, with a team of suicide

George Osborne interview: smaller government is not enough

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”James Forsyth and Fraser Nelson discuss Osborne’s election manoeuvres ” startat=839] Listen [/audioplayer]Puccini’s doesn’t seem like George Osborne’s sort of restaurant. It is a pizza-and-pasta place in the safely Labour constituency of Salford and Eccles, Greater Manchester, most notable for the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson once took his whole squad there. (‘Penne alla Giggs’ is still on offer to prove it.) In recent years, however, the Chancellor has become something of a regular — he has even taken the Prime Minister along — and is made welcome to the point that when we met there last Thursday diners queued to be photographed with him. The Chancellor used

Labour unsure about health policy its own councils support

The announcement today that Greater Manchester will receive full control of health spending – worth £6bn – has left Labour in a rather interesting position. On the one hand, it is easy for Andy Burnham to say that this sounds ‘like yet another NHS reorganisation’. But on the other, Greater Manchester includes a number of Labour councils who appear pretty happy to sign up to the provisional deal. Indeed, one of those councils is Wigan, which covers Burnham’s own constituency. Now one of the reasons that spending has been devolved to this area is that councils in Greater Manchester are keen, forward-looking and ambitious. George Osborne has long been a

Say no to devolution without democracy

Imagine if, in one of her first acts as First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon announced that, in spite of the result of September’s independence vote, Scotland was to declare independence anyway, on the basis that opinion polls now showed a majority of people in favour of independence and therefore there was no need for the decision to be approved in a referendum. David Cameron and his government would surely treat it as an outrage. Why, then, has the Chancellor this week seen fit to announce that the people of Greater Manchester are to have a directly elected mayor? Two years ago the very same question was put to the

Caption Ed Miliband and see Alex Salmond’s face in the Halloween pumpkins

Even the po-faced Associated Press (video above) couldn’t but describe as ‘toe-curling’ Ed Miliband’s encounter with a homeless hijabi. Pundits agree that Ed appeared ‘terrified’ of the beggar in Manchester. Mr S was there, however – on unrelated business, of course – and can confirm that the opposition leader really did only have 2p in his pocket at the time. (Why on earth would he carry more?) Your correspondent was otherwise engaged, however (in discussion with my equine consultant) in the moment this photo was snapped: What could have been on his mind? Or that of shadow transport secretery Mary Creagh, for that matter, as they headed into the Manchester town hall? The new Scottish

If the idea of disturbing kraut-punk sung by a troll appeals, you’ll love The Fall

I had a fair idea of what I was in for when I went to see The Fall at Brixton’s Electric last Friday. They’re a middle-aged band from Manchester, just like the Stone Roses, or the various incarnations of New Order. In journalese, this almost makes them ‘Heritage Rock’. I can’t remember when people started using this term, but it’s gone from the repertoire of niche music writing to being A Thing. You can’t go a week without some old beat combo or other announcing their re-formation, and in return they get a sort of protected status. Old rock music has become to the British what films about unfaithful middle-class

Why do we care about the mutts from Manchester and not the chickens from KFC?

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Melissa Kite, Camilla Swift (and Charlie the dog) discuss animal welfare” startat=630] Listen [/audioplayer]We love animals more than we love people. Of course we do. Following the recent fire at a Manchester dogs’ home, people donated £1 million and blocked the M6 with their cars as they arrived in their multitudes to adopt the displaced animals. It would have been heartwarming, it really would, if we hadn’t also demanded the death of the teenaged boy named on Twitter as the suspect in the arson attack. All over the internet apparently normal people, including ‘friends’ of mine on Facebook, called for a 15-year-old boy to be burned alive. I

Marriage and foreplay Sharia-style

Needless to say, it’s not uncommon to hear single British women in their thirties and forties saying that all the good men are married. But in The Men with Many Wives (Channel 4, Wednesday) this came with a twist: it turned out to be precisely the reason why you should marry them too. Polygamy may be illegal in Britain, but it’s permitted under the Sharia law that many Muslims here apparently live by — and, as several of the programme’s participants told us, there’s no better guide to whether a man is husband material than the fact that he’s a husband already. Take Nabilah, who came to Britain from Malaysia