Toby Neal: All hail Andy Burnham, the Angel of the North

Andy Burnham, what a hero.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham

He's been immortalised in the traditional playground rhyme – There was a mayor called Andy Burnham, who asked the earth and said that'd learn'em, to accept less I'd be a fool, I must get more than Liverpool.

As Robin Hood was to Nottingham, which also has a high Covid infection rate as it happens, Andy, the Angel of the North, is to Manchester.

Robin robbed the rich, which is illegal under the 1968 Theft Act but we're talking legends here, to give to the poor, making him an icon of socialism. And he really stuck it to the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham.

Andy has been sticking it to the villainous Sheriffs of Westminster, trying to screw as much money as he can out of them.

Good on yer, Andy. Well said, Andy. Pat on the back, Andy (wearing a glove of course because of the current situation).

One hand in his pocket, casually dressed, and open shirt in man-of-the-people fashion, he has been standing up for his great city, the ignored, the downtrodden, and those who will be terribly hit by the new restrictions.

Andy has shown the way. From now on other mayors will hold their manhood (or womanhood, as appropriate) cheap if they do not also stand up to the Government in the same manner and enter a bidding war to try to squeeze more out of Rishi Sunak's pot, which for the moment seems unlimited but will soon lie empty and bankrupt the country.

That's one way of looking at it. But we're in the middle of a deadly global pandemic, so a less charitable way of looking at it is that Andy Burnham was holding the Government to ransom with the lives of his own people.

There's a live, important, and reasonable argument to be had over whether heightened restrictions are necessary in some areas, and whether they will work anyway, because if they don't then all they do is bring devastating economic cost.

Andy Burnham is a former health secretary under Gordon Brown. So he is presumably attuned to issues of public health.

But the Boris-Burnham spat was essentially all about compensation levels, what Burnham described scathingly as a governmental poker game with people's lives.

If it was a poker game, then it was one in which his opening demand was for £90 million for Greater Manchester.

Less populous Liverpool, where former government homelessness adviser Dame Louise Casey has asked whether Liverpudlians face resorting to prostitution to put food on the table, got £44 million.

Then the haggling got under way in earnest and Burnham's final demand was for £65 million. The Government-imposed figure is £60 million. That's £29 per person in Burnhamland. Liverpool city region is getting £28 per person.

Whether the heightened restrictions in Manchester will accomplish anything now has to be open to doubt, as if the city's mayor has raised the flag of rebellion and defiance, and has no confidence in the measures, why should ordinary Mancunians bother complying?

Andy Burnham will go down in local folklore, lionised as the mayor who stood up for Manchester.

He's also a politician, and politicians don't make good heroes. Today ordinary people look elsewhere, to the likes of Marcus Rashford MBE.

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Test, track and trace? Ha. Ha. Ha.

Testing is of course an invaluable tool for diagnosis and to track the disease and respond accordingly. As for tracing, it's a wonder that anybody is taking that part seriously any more based on the miserable figures.

It is the poll tax all over again with a similar flaw. Tracing individuals in a democratic free country is problematic at the best of times.

With coronavirus, the point of doing so is to tell them to self isolate to stop the spread of the disease, even if they are perfectly well.

If the system fails to trace such healthy people, I can't see that they will lose sleep over it. Self isolation is the correct, legal, and public spirited thing to do. But if you feel perfectly well, I'm guessing some folk will see it as pointless.

Apart from the inherent difficulties of tracing people, that factor may be at least a part of the reason why this aspect is falling down so badly.

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Heated face masks. I do hope I am the first to think of it.

As the winter approaches having a heated face mask would be a boon in the biting cold winds. You could have a battery and little elements running through the fabric, like in those heated windscreens in cars.

And as I'm on a Covid theme, we keep hearing the phrase "being guided by the science," but in past crises like the Black Death when there was no science to speak of they were guided by the Church and the power of prayer.

A theological dimension to the current pandemic appears to be missing, or at least largely unreported. What is the Archbishop of Canterbury doing?

At those Downing Street press conferences the scientists are given a platform and the public is expected to have an almost religious faith that what they say is the gospel, when in fact scientific opinion when it comes to coronavirus is, to keep the analogy going, a broad church.

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