Jobs, peace & freedom
Things taken for granted
Back in April 1994, Nelson Mandela and the ANC ran and won on the political ticket 'Jobs, peace and freedom' to end apartheid in South Africa, and gave hope to millions of oppressed people. I remember thinking at the time that what we take for granted in a civilised country is merely a dream for most people throughout the world. Fast forward to 2021, where Manchester is losing tens of thousands of jobs, peace on our streets is on a knife edge, and freedoms have been taken away with no debate whatsoever, it's clear to see how this city could quite easily descend into chaos and anarchy.
Under Covid-19 restrictions, we've all experienced to a degree what it's like to live under a totalitarian, authoritarian and Orwellian state where having alternative opinions can get you into trouble. I conclude that it's now time for a democratic 'changing of the guard' in our political system, where cities stand on their own two feet, independent of powers found in nationally-based political movements that claim to know what's best for us. The current party political system is the wrong option for Manchester if we want to generate the tangible and intangible assets that will drive long term confidence in our city's 'brand'.
The voting system is there for a reason. Please use it as the silent majority are always the best gauge of public opinion.
I believe most people want the chance of a decent job, an affordable home and enough financial security to raise a family in a positive, free and clean environment. The idea of a job can also mean 'a purpose for living,' as many people do vital unpaid work in our society.
Manchester is no longer competing with Liverpool, Leeds and London for jobs, but rather Mumbai, Munich and Melbourne in a world market where we need to be so much more sophisticated. Aged 50 and an experienced entrepreneur, risk-taker and serial mistake-maker, I've been around the block enough times to know what's required, and am still young enough to assemble a quality team of people to deliver that requirement.
The retention of existing jobs and the creation of new ones is the most important policy for this city going forward, as we seek to move from an unsustainable service-based economy to one that's hi-tech and clean-air driven. The rejuvenation of 'in need of attention'' towns such as Ashton-Under- Lyne, Bolton, Oldham, Rochdale and Wigan as development zones is vital to success here.
The environment, together with artificial intelligence in the planning stage, has the potential to be the biggest job creation driver in Manchester. However, it needs to be driven by business minds, not politicians. Investment in culture, science and the arts is also needed to attract jobs as well as stimulate a renaissance in intellectual and philosophical discussion. A new tourism strategy, where we take pride in our region's history, is essential too.
In the short term, Manchester Airport presents a huge problem with up to 40,000 direct and indirect supply chain jobs at risk. In normal times, the airport is a huge cash generator for all 10 councils in our region, which receive an annual dividend return. Thanks to Covid-19, this may be negative for many years to come. The level of 'normal' revenue from the airport is going to be very difficult to replace unless all our councils become more businesslike in their approach.
The recovery of the city centre also relies on 'laissez faire' trading conditions, as the stringent Covid-19 rules currently being prescribed will be the final nail in the coffin for many businesses that will be prevented from making a profit. The night-time economy, such as cafe bars and restaurants, are crucial to the personality of our region and must be allowed to recover quickly. The office culture is in the balance, but a promotion of flexible working conditions will help not only businesses to survive but also the family unit, and can be seen as a positive change on the whole.
My major concern is the legal profession, which could seize a short term opportunity to make trading impossible for many businesses. Add in the unions that support the Labour Party here in Manchester and we could have a totally decimated economy within a year, as more jobs transfer overseas where there are no employment law barriers.
Finally, there needs to be a huge drive for Manchester people to 'stay local' and support Manchester-based businesses. The phoenix businesses that rise from the ashes and their ability to create jobs is equally critical, and it's fundamental that there are no entry barriers for new start-ups.
Regarding the situation with the buses, Andy Burnham is quite right to take control. But I think he needs to go a step further and make public transport free at the point of entry, like the Luxembourg system. People will only start using their cars less if there are economic reasons to do so.
All successful economies trade on the concepts of confidence and the ability to plan ahead. Without doubt, these are tricky times but there's also an opportunity - with the right leadership - to create a huge wave of business optimism from the outset of lifting lockdown.
A 'proportional representation' voting system is now vital for long term peace in our city at council level, with a reduction of councillors to around 300 from 650. Located in central Manchester, a new local Houses of Parliament at the town hall would allow decisions to be made from a central position.
Over the next few years, revolution and uprising can't be ruled out, so it's important that any change is delivered by a democratic process where everyone's vote is fairly counted and expressed for representation. The current disinterest and alienation from politics is an extremely dangerous situation if we don't have accountable leaders. The current 'two party' system has already turned into a polarised shambles at national level and we need to change this quickly - if only to be a civilised city.
The concept of freedom is up for grabs in 2021, at a time when the stakes have never been higher. A person who's free to speak as they see fit, think without indoctrination to a certain political narrative or religion, and express themselves without limitation, is one who can reach the boundaries of human development and self-actualisation.
On the other hand, those who curtail freedom and seek to control the political narrative are enemies of what we need to achieve here in Manchester (or anywhere), and being free to disagree is a vital part of that concept.
As it stands in 2021, our society appears to be hedonistic and happy to trade the concept of freedom for pleasure and consumerism. It's therefore vulnerable to the uprising of a brutal, tyrannical regime with firm foundations in the far left or right, or a repressive form of religion. In history, Roman society gives us the best example of how a sophisticated, hedonistic society can easily collapse when its weak foundations give way to a more organised force.
Once freedom is lost, you lose the artistic licence of what it is and can be to be a human being, and ultimately, the chance to become the best version of you.