MANCHESTER: When Andy Burnham, a former British government minister, won the election to be Greater Manchester’s Metro Mayor recently he was probably focused on plans for the region’s transport, policing and housing – and, of course, all the behind the scenes political work that goes on when a new role is created.
And yet just a few weeks after taking on the role, terrorism has proved to be his first major challenge. Following the horrific bomb attack following a concert at one of Manchester’s most popular venues, he quickly has had to rise to the challenge.
It is a sad fact of life that as a senior politician, you will soon have to face – and deal with – a shocking incident of this kind.
These incidents arrive regardless of your long term plans and whatever you are doing. Gordon Brown’s early tenure as UK prime minister, for example, saw the Glasgow terror incident – which involved an attempted car bombing of the city’s airport in June 2007. Just four days into his premiership, Brown was dealing with the worst terrorist incident in Britain since the attacks on London in July 2005. Andy Burnham now finds himself in a similar situation.
Giving Manchester a voice
For Burnham, as the mayor and messenger of Manchester, an attack of this scale needs a response at several levels. There is the immediately practical – dealing with casualties. There is the short term logistical – dealing with things like transport and closures. And there is the investigation and (hopefully) prevention of any follow ups.
But he will also need a “voice”. People look to particular figures to give a voice to their outrage, to talk about the need for calm, to provide reassurance, and to offer unity and express the sadness overwhelming many.
Part of the thinking behind the UK government’s enthusiasm for elected mayors was a perceived need to provide strong, local leaders. And a strong, local leader’s voice is exactly what is needed in Manchester now.