Forget the press releases: Manchester is no place for the Tory Party

Article published: Wednesday, September 28th 2011

In 2009, the Tories held their first conference in Manchester for over a century, seen as a clear statement of Cameron’s intent to broaden his appeal beyond the townhouses and cottages of the South East to the trendy regenerated terraces and warehouses of the North West. From Sunday through to Wednesday they will return to the Petersfield conference complex in its centre. There will also be protests, since for the entire history of its maturity as a city Manchester has been for everything the Tories oppose, and opposed to everything the Tories are for.

A painting of the Peterloo Massacre published by the radical journalist Richard Carlile, one of the demonstration's speakers.

For Greater Manchester’s publicity arm, Marketing Manchester, there is nothing incongruous about such guests, who are celebrated for bringing “£27.4 million to the local economy”. This ignores not only the enormous, £110 million cuts forced on the city by Westminster, but also the ongoing structural inequality which means that Manchester still has the highest levels of child poverty in the UK, and some of the lowest life expectancies. Tweed-suited Tories spending a bit of cash will not only do little to alleviate these problems, but when conspiring together in conference centres they are simply plotting how to make them worse.

The very site that will host them is itself the symbolic heart of the British left. As the Tories boast to the cameras and sip champagne they will be trampling on the spot where, in 1819, 18 people were killed and 500 injured when the drunken Manchester and Salford Yeomanry charged into a crowd of 50,000 protesting against corruption and for the working class to be allowed to vote. The masses at Peterloo had come from the towns around Manchester, and organised themselves not to fight but to march behind music and banners in a festive display of protest. The Tory Home Secretary, Viscount Sidmouth, responded to the massacre by sending a letter of congratulations to the Manchester magistrates.

Peterloo could not suppress the city’s spirit, and nor could the notorious Six Acts, forced on the country a few months later by a Tory government determined to suppress all opposition and remove any political initiative from the lower classes. The city’s Radicals kept struggling: for a free press, to support the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Glasgow Spinners, and to form unions of their own. For decades pubs across Lancashire even had as their signs full-length portraits of Henry “Orator” Hunt, the Radical whose speech at Peterloo the Yeomanry had so bloodily stopped.

The city became a hub of the Chartist movement that electrified Manchester as it did the country, a role it also performed for the strike wave of 1842, when workers disabled factories across the North West to demand reform and better working and living conditions. It was the city where Marx and Engels sought to understand capital in all its complexity and brutality, where the co-operative movement found its base, and where the Trades Union Congress was formed in 1868. It was the home of the Pankhurts, and with Salford one of the two cities in Walter Greenwood’s 1933 masterpiece  Love on the Dole.

The house in which the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded still stands, and with the People’s History Museum attests not only to the richness of the cities’ Radical history but also the pride with which Mancunians remember that history. On the other side of the Irwell in Salford is the Working Class Movement Library, founded by Ruth and Eddie Frow; his arrest and beating at the Battle of Bexley Square 80 years ago, when thousands of unemployed workers were attacked by the police for trying to deliver a petition, was depicted in the conclusion of Greenwood’s novel.

The Tories figure into that history solely as antagonists. As Chartist, socialist and co-operative movement activist George Holyoake, after whom the Co-operative’s Holyoake House in the city centre is named, wrote in his autobiography:

“Tories, by the law of their being, seek authority by which the majority of them intend the control of public affairs for their own advantage.  They supply money for corruption, intending to refund themselves by place and profit when the resources of the State come under their manipulation.”

This is a reality becoming ever more apparent as once again under the Tories, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Because of this Manchester is not a city to which they are welcome, and on Sunday two protests seek to make this clear: a march through the city’s centre, and an assembly at Albert Square, outside the Town Hall.

As the protests and resistance against austerity and the coalition enters its second year, the left needs to maintain momentum, but it also needs to organise and remain united. It needs to be confrontational, but inclusive rather than alienating. Through the city we can march and show that the Tories need to be resisted for their assault on the working class of the country, not praised for the amount they’ll spend on food and drink. In the streets and at Albert Square, protestors will consciously turn back to the forms of demonstration that so terrified the Tories in the last two centuries: those that show that the masses are against them with a festival of colour, noise and anger.

Tom Fox


More: Manchester, Opinion


  1. Err, remind me who had 17 years to sort our Manchester’s child poverty rate?! I’ll give you a clue, it wasn’t tweed-suited Tories (lazy stereotype BTW). It was what you call the British Left. A left who declared war illegally, employed odious toads like Mandelson (who is about as far removed as what I’d class as Left as I can think) and spanked millions on failed public sector projects, millions that could have been better spent in areas like Manchester. March and protest about the cuts by all means, I dare say I’m in agreement with you on some issues, but making this a clear cut “no place for the Tories” argument is ignoring recent history…which is perhaps why you’re so keen to quote events that happened so long ago as to be irrelevant to only but the most entrenched left winger.

    Comment by Paz on September 29, 2011 at 10:36 am
  2. Yeah but Labour isn’t part of the British left…

    Mule is always publishing articles critical of Labour – but it’d be a bit weird to to keep doing that even when the Tories are in town for their national conference, wouldn’t it?

    Comment by tom on September 29, 2011 at 10:42 am
  3. Home of the Pankhursts?

    Emmeline was as a member of the Conservative Party for the last part of her life.

    She’ll probably be looking down on the conference with a smile and her best wishes.

    Your comment

    ‘There will also be protests, since for the entire history of its maturity as a city Manchester has been for everything the Tories oppose, and opposed to everything the Tories are for.’

    is laughable.

    Manchester has only become a Tory free zone during the city’s relative social and economic decline which happened in the second half of the 20th century, well after the city reached ‘maturity’.

    Even in 1970 Manchester Moss side elected a Tory MP, and Manchester Withington elected one in the year of Mrs Thatcher’s first win in 1979, and again in 1983.

    And those Tories haven’t really gone anywhere far away. They’ve just moved out to the suburbs of Stockport, Trafford and Bury and many of them travel into the city centre every day for work.

    Comment by simon on September 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm
  4. Tom,

    Whilst I think that you are right to highlight the ridiculous propaganda that comes out of the council over the revenue generating ability of the conference and its wheeling out of the usual suspects,to turn this into some sort of radical crusade on events that happened 200 years ago is a rather tired argument.

    Manchester,whilst a historical hotbed of radicalism has always been a city in which freedom to exercise opinion has been allowed.

    So why should the Tories not be given a platform just in the same way that the TUC are given a platform to mrch on Sunday?

    As for the worst child poverty figures in the country and a dose of other deprivation statistics,remember the left has been in power in Manchester for some time and nationally for 13 years.

    The downward slide in living standards in some areas of Manchester can be held firmly at the door of a policy of deindustrialisation being replaced by consumerism,a practice that both sides of the poltical spectrum have been engaged in since the 1950’s

    Comment by Nigel Barlow on September 29, 2011 at 2:02 pm
  5. Just on the Pankursts – Sylvia is worth a mention as for some time she was a genuine revolutionary anti-parliamentary communist opposed to the so-called Labour Party – though she did of course end up moving to London!

    Comment by Mike on September 29, 2011 at 3:37 pm
  6. […] Forget the press releases: Manchester is no place for the Tory Party  —   MULE […]

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  7. […] of the 80s and 90s. But then Manchester has a very long history of resisting Tory policies, and to some people, the presence of so many visiting Conservative Party members in their city feels like a calculated […]

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  8. Nigel: Regardless of your opinion on who constitutes “the Left”, you should be well aware that the Mule doesn’t place the Parliamentary Labour Party or the Manchester City Council Labour group under that header.

    Comment by Alison on November 19, 2011 at 11:12 pm

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