Preparations are in full swing for David Cameron’s visit to Manchester tomorrow (Tuesday 6th January).
The Conservative leader will face an hour-long grilling from our readers on the current economic crisis and his plans for the future.
I’ve been genuinely impressed by the number of people who have contacted us saying they want to attend, and the quality of questions they propose to ask.
The threat of rising unemployment is high on the list of concerns. It’s been suggested by our London-centric national media that this recession, unlike others, will hit the south as hard as or harder than the north. As I’ve argued on my own blog, that seems almost wilfully naive. It’s certainly not what people are experiencing in the north west.
Other issues? Well, the Conservative tax plans announced today are bound to figure highly. For the first time in some time, we have clear water between the two major parties on economic policy. Spend or save? Each side has nailed its colours to a mast; we await to see who is right, and equally importantly in the short term, who voters believe will be right.
Mr Cameron is coming for a debate on the economy, but broader local issues will no doubt crop up as well. Greater Manchester has been on a political Christmas holiday since the middle of December, when plans for a congestion charge in return for nearly £3bn of public transport improvements were rejected by a huge margin in a referendum. There is a sense that Labour, locally, might suffer an extended hangover from that going into the New Year. But while people may have decided congestion charging wasn’t the right way to achieve the sort of step-change our transport system needs, they still want to see heavy investment going in. They want the carrot without the stick. And no party, up to now, has promised that.
We’ve seen a lot of Mr Cameron in Greater Manchester since he became Conservative leader. Some have questioned the wisdom of that, given that Manchester council has just one Tory councillor (and he was a defector from the Liberal Democrats). But in other parts of the conurbation, the Conservatives have made strong progress. They now run Bury and Trafford, for instance, and are well represented elsewhere. Indeed, across Greater Manchester, the Conservatives actually won more votes than Labour at the last local elections. If Mr Cameron has a political challenge around these parts it is perhaps not a northern challenge, nor even a northern city challenge; it is a northern inner-city challenge.
At any rate, as far as we are concerned, the more we see of the party leaders, the better.
We’ll be broadcasting the debate live through our sister TV channel, Channel M, from noon. We’ll also be live blogging at blogs.manchestereveningnews.co.uk.