Burnham, bee buses, Boris Johnson and more
It wasn’t the best of times but it wasn’t the 2020 worst of times. 2021 felt like a Tough Mudder edition of a marathon year but thankfully we've now crossed the finish line. Granted, like the year before, 2021 came with a lingering theme but aside from the obvious, the news has come thick and fast, good and bad. As always, we’ve been here to scoop it up and refashion it into round-up form for the end of the year.
Arguably Manchester’s finest moment in 2021 came in the wake of the Euro 2020 final in which England lost to Italy.
Manchester again felt the Burn. As Labour played out a familiar chocolate teapot skit on the national stage, Burnham continued to build his brand and also tease the nation with what future leadership could look like in the face of Boris Johnson and his party Party. Richard Leese left, Bev Craig replaced him and the new-look city Labour party is already fracturing. The future looks greenish.
Look to the skyline and the forecast appears to be more towers than The Lord of the Rings. Institutions reopened, others closed, milestones and birthdays were celebrated and the city rallied behind Rashford and his triumphant mural. There were pride and protest, big Mondays, high (lines) and lows. And don’t get us started on that pub in Denton.
So without further ado here’s our round-up of news from 2021. Here’s to a better one in 2022.
Much like the previous year, 2021 began with a flip and a flop. Setting the tone for the year ahead, Boris Johnson urged all pupils to return to school after the Christmas break for business as usual, only to announce a national lockdown two days later. The first of many U-turns in a year of U-turns from the cabbage patch king.
Boomers unleashed the memes on family Whatsapp groups once again, homeschools reopened and in true Blitz spirit, walks were rationed. Meanwhile, Greater Manchester’s vaccination programme got underway. Thousands came forward to help doctors, nurses and NHS staff administer the vaccine and we spoke to a volunteer about how the city was managing such a mammoth task, including turning the Etihad stadium into a mass vaccination centre.
Local politics finally got the hero it deserved as Jackie Weaver struck a blow for exasperated Zoomers everywhere. The chief officer of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils took control of the Handforth Parish Council Meeting with the immortal line: “Please refer to me as Britney Spears from now on." Jackie was the gift that kept on giving as she tweeted out on the last day of 2021: "It’s New Years Eve - a time for change. But be kind to yourself- if you can’t change it then let it go. Easy to say, hard to do, but essential for your mental health. I give YOU the authority!" Back at ya, Jacks.
Speaking of the local politics, MCC suffered a setback when campaign group Trees Not Cars won a judicial review against Manchester City Council which blocked a 440-space car park on Great Ancoats Street. Although trees had a decent year, cars still appear to be winning. This set the tone for a year which would see great efforts in making a paradigm shift towards active transport, though not without friction. Hot topics included including bike lanes, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and the first steps towards Clean Air Zone, which will come in on 30 May 2022.
Hospitality continued to do its best to adapt to the most challenging circumstances ever, only to be slapped in the face by Rishi Sunak cosying up to Gordon Ramsay. Northern bosses had quite a bit to say about it - our favourite quote from Mary-Ellen McTague?: "It's felt like being in a really shit video game, where you don't know how to play it and the end-of-level boss is Boris Johnson."
A tragic month punctuated by the death of Sarah Everard who was raped and murdered by a serving police officer in London. The crime sent shockwaves across the country and a vigil was held in Manchester at the Emmeline Pankhurst statue in St Peter’s Square.
March also saw the passing of influential property magnate Jim Ramsbottom, the appointment of a new chief of Greater Manchester Police, Stephen Watson, and the Alan Turing £50 note going into circulation for the first time to commemorate what would’ve been the Manchester codebreaker’s birthday. We’re still yet to see one in the flesh.
The mayoral campaign hotted up. Conservative candidate Laura Evans promised to “put us back on the map”, finally filling in the blank space between Warrington and Glossop. While Laura was a bit of a black sheep among the mainstream candidates, Mel ‘n Simon ‘n Andy got on like a house on fire, with Andy filling the role of dorky big brother to the Lib Dem and Green candidates’ cheeky younger sibs.
Andy invited his mate Keir round to have a go on the tram and engage in a bit of pose and point for the cameras. The Labour leader (Keir, not Andy, though time will tell) also made time to go to John Lewis for a wallpaper fondling stunt straight out of the banter bunker in response to Carrie Johnson's Downing Street redecoration furore. No doubt the stunt backfired the moment Starmer realised visiting John Lewis in Manchester means going to the Trafford Centre.
RIP the European Super League, a short-lived joking not joking greed clique that resulted in Old Trafford protests and year-long apologathon from the Glazers.
Happier news came as bars and restaurants were allowed to serve outdoors, and Manchester embraced its inner Barcelona. Roads were temporarily pedestrianised and someone somewhere made a fortune on their stock of giant umbrellas.
The only person who seemed not to be 100% convinced Andy Burnham would be re-elected as Mayor of Greater Manchester was Burnham himself, or at least his exhausting campaign trail suggested he was not resting on his laurels as he toured Greater Manchester’s hotspots such as Walkden South. But win he did, doing more to turn Greater Manchester red than the ’98-’99 treble.
Speculation has been rife ever since that the Mayoral position is a springboard back to London and leading the Labour party, despite his avowed hatred of “the Westminster bubble”. His win was memorialised in this fine cake by Libby G but what tribute could be finer than being immortalised as Manchester’s favourite dad?
Andy’s Big Plan was to get Greater Manchester’s transport "the London-style system it deserved". Other catchphrases (might have) included: “How much for a single to Middleton?” “You’d get to Zone 9 and back again for that money” and “gizza billion quid Boris, lad”.
The same day also marked the local council elections, and a new intake of councillors got to see the inside of the Town Hall. Well not too much, as it is still being refurbished. One councillor stood out like a Green stalk on Labour's red tomato - Rob Nunney was elected to represent Woodhouse Park in Wythenshawe and told us about how he found life as a political animal.
In non-election news, The Guardian celebrated its 200th birthday and Manchester Cathedral its 600th. Green spaces also got a boost as RHS Bridgewater finally opened, boasting 154 acres of verdant garden, plus a café and a fancy plant shop. Luckily it also came with a car park, presumably to repel any temptation for the council to build on it.
More lush foliage is on the horizon as our top story of June was the announcement that the city will get a new stretch of green space. The disused viaduct running alongside the Metrolink line in Castlefield is to blossom under the auspices of the National Trust in a venture that is being compared to the High Line in New York.
"Freedom Day" was delayed for four weeks as this new variant called Delta started sending the stats a bit doolally again. Bolton was a hotspot for new cases and various signs warned people about going there, which only added to the sense that we were living in a very low-key remake of 28 Days Later.
Arguably Manchester’s finest moment in 2021 came in the wake of the Euro 2020 final in which England lost to Italy. A large black-and-white mural of Marcus Rashford by Akse in Withington had been defaced overnight. By Monday evening notes and decorated England flags had been added to the mural in solidarity with Rashford as well as his teammates Sancho and Saka. Messages included the words "hero" and "a true inspiration".
The Manchester United and England player responded: “The messages I’ve received today have been positively overwhelming and seeing the response in Withington had me on the verge of tears. The communities that always wrapped their arms around me continue to hold me up.”
Despite hospitality coming back hot, problems persisted and many restaurants and bars didn’t make it through. Staffing was an enormous problem and continued to be so throughout the year. So-called Freedom Day also saw the return of music venues, many of whom were desperately struggling. It would be mad to think that in a few months’ time someone who lived above a famous one would be complaining about the noise.
Elsewhere, the monolith that is the Tombstone Tower on Hulme Street was approved, the Jewish Museum reopened and Manchester International Festival returned in style bringing among other things, books to Piccadilly Gardens in Big Ben form.
August saw Sir Richard Leese celebrate 25 years at the top of Manchester’s political food chain as leader of Manchester City Council. Most people celebrating such a milestone might treat themselves to something nice or take an afternoon off, but not Leese. His gift from us was an audience with Jonathan Schofield.
Manchester celebrated Pride in person again and the 2021 edition came with extra drama and ample shade. Carl Austin-Behan gave us some insight on the issues and Manchester, as ever, pulled a great Pride out of the bag, even if the parade was cancelled, by offering a wealth of alternative Pride events.
In August, Confidentials also launched its new Greater Manchester restaurant guide.
Mask-wearing got noticeably less popular as people got used to being back out in the world again, but Mystic Andy was back on the crystal balls as he predicted that “face masks would be back” for the winter.
The big news of September was the surprise resignation of the leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese (nothing to do with his interview with Jonathan). A divisive figure who pushed through many, many changes to Manchester through sheer force of will, he will be remembered as the most significant figure in British local government since World War Two.
Another divisive figure in Manchester who has achieved as much through will as through his other talents, Cristiano Ronaldo was back at Old Trafford. A bit of kerfuffle over who owned the number 7 and a sky banner or two aside, the return of Ronnie gave the red side of the city a boost with a sparkling return. Funny how there hasn't been any City news to speak of this year. Well, any that will get past legal.
Social media loves a good bit of nominative determinism, so when the BBC sent a reporter to cover the fuel shortages from a BP garage in Stockport, Twitter fully embraced the fact he was called Phil McCann.
October kicked off with the upper-class chaos that only the Conservative Party Conference could bring. Booking up all the suites at Manchester’s poshest hotels, turning the Midland hotel into an anti-pleb fortress and the streets into a police-state wargame, a whole new generation of Spad learned that a flat white exists up north.
There were too many highlights to mention – an exception made for Richard Leese getting a glass of wine tipped all over him – but the whole thing was summed up by an event at The Paramount Wetherspoons titled Saturday’s for the Tory Bois. The event page encouraged attendees to “say goodbye to Zoom, and hello to pitchers, cheap pints and maybe a bad decision (or two).” Not difficult to imagine where the next six months of Covid policy was planned then.
It also turned out that Andy’s catchphrases (see May) paid off and the Treasury paid up. Greater Manchester will receive £1.07bn in capital funding to upgrade its transport system. Insiders speculated that Johnson just can’t resist a sexy bus.
In order to cement his position as a man of the people and show us that it’s not all about Westminster, Swish Rish made a surprise visit to Bury Market. Unfortunately, he thought he was in Burnley, but to be fair to him he could’ve been in Blackburn or anywhere, Bradford or Brigg, because Bury is anywhere, anywhere up north. Anywhere up north.
The budget was announced, and away from the Bee Network money, most people thought it was shit. Bev Craig was voted in to take over from Richard Leese, making her Manchester's first female and first openly gay council leader.
November was a month for stories that allowed people to vent on social media. First up were the mysterious grey boxes that had sprouted across Manchester city centre like cuboid Pokémon waiting to evolve. And evolve they did, into giant dystopian iPads beaming algorithmically-inspired personalised advertising into the eyeballs of those trying to navigate the minimal pavement space around them.
Proceeds from the advertising will go to the council. No wonder they’re pushing walking all of a sudden.
Another story that left the city mystified and eyeballs rolling was the curious case of Night and Day Café. The venerable Northern Quarter music institution was served a noise abatement notice by licensing enforcement officers after a resident complained about the noise. Fears rapidly spread that it would be shut down in a stressful time for a venue already hit hard by lockdown. Rumours are that the resident has now moved to the countryside and is complaining that the grass is too green.
Speaking of green, if you think of Manchester as the Emerald City and Richard Leese as the Wizard, then one councillor got her ruby slippers on and pulled back the curtain to expose some of the inner workings of the city council. Marcia Hutchinson wrote a damning resignation letter detailing the whip system and lack of transparency in the Constituency Labour Party, just on the eve of Sir Richard stepping down. Nice.
Out with the old (Leese) and in with the new (Craig) on the first of this month as Manchester City Council declared 2022 the Year of the Child – “a year to celebrate and further support children and young people in Manchester.” As Christmas tradition dictates, Gordo went for a mooch around the Christmas markets and even shared his thoughts on BBC 5 Live, to which the presenter called him “woke”.
More festive fails came in the form of the Unreal Xmas event at Trafford Palazzo. Our writer said: “Loosely resembling an abandoned Lapland disaster zone, the only thing that was 'breathtaking' about our Unreal Xmas experience was the sprint from the tram stop to the entrance in the lashing down rain.” And it didn’t get much better after that, with a leaking ice rink, bin bag slush shields and a colourful array of swears from stallholders.
The year 2021 went out with a bit of a whimper as Manchester City Council decided to cancel the firework display and trams stopped running as of 5pm. As for 2022, we predict this is the end of predictability. Who knows what will happen? Well, we will still be eating and drinking our way around the city and making the most of everything it has to offer. Starting with a month ofJanuary dining deals.
Happy New Year from everyone at Manchester Confidential.
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