‘Best mates’ Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham have landed the plum nominations as Labour candidates for the Liverpool and Manchester metro mayors, respectively. Does this mean a new axis between the old rivals, asks Merrion Strategy MD, Dougal Paver.
‘Manchester men and Liverpool gentlemen’ is an old saying first noted in the early eighteenth century. It stuck for a few centuries, too, as Liverpool’s commercial elite – the ship owners, cotton brokers and insurance moguls – looked down snootily upon their Lancastrian brethren getting their hands dirty in mills and mines 30 miles to the east. How things change.
Manchester, undisputed capital of the north, has a single-minded focus on how it can close the gap with London and continues to gobble up the lion’s share of footloose office requirements looking for a home outside the capital. Liverpool, as its lettings figures and absence of speculative office development show, ain’t getting much of a look-in.
But for those who love a good conspiracy, there’s a cuckoo in Manchester’s nest in the shape of Liverpool-born, Everton-mad former minister Andy Burnham, now the city’s official Labour Party candidate for next May’s metro mayor elections. And he’s a great pal of Liverpool Labour candidate Steve Rotherham, with whom he paired on the long fight for justice for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster. Moreover, they’re already talking about the possibility of closer collaboration between these two great Lancashire rivals.
It’s all caused something of a frenzy of media speculation and weary sighs on yon side the Pennine hills, where business and political leaders fear the Northern Powerhouse could become a Manchester/Liverpool carve-up.
Certainly, given the issues posed for connectivity by the Pennine barrier, and the much greater sharing of labour pool between Liverpool and Manchester than between Manchester and Leeds, it makes sense for the two cities to come together where it’s in their mutual interest.
None of this may come to pass, of course: we’ve yet to see whether the Tories or Lib Dems put up heavyweight candidates in either city. As the Brexit vote showed, the public’s appetite for bloody-mindedness remains as strong as ever. We shall be watching with interest.