‘If You Walk Through The Garden…’

My roving regional satirical eye notes that Terry Christian has been criticised for remarks to the effect that Moss Side is full of kids with guns:

Here’s a question for you. If you were a kid growing up in a deprived area like this would you be likely to want to join the army for a rifle and risk getting killed for a government that has denied you opportunities in life and no chance of moving on, or would you think ‘I’ll carry a gun and sell drugs?’ At the end of the day the rewards are greater and there’s probably less chance of getting killed.

Is there more to this story than the MEN‘s commitment to manufactured controversy over news? Maybe. Christian’s point was a good one on the face of it – inner city kids with few opportunities could see the game as a reasonable life choice. But his comments demonstrate that the loudmouth professional Mancs who the Evening News fawns over don’t necessarily care about the city or even know it that well.

There was a similar furore last year when then shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling walked around with GMP in the area and came back saying ‘It’s the world of the drama series The Wire’. This sort of thing is the reason people hate politicians and think that they imagine the world outside their North London enclave as a pitiless wasteland. (Tories have a troubled relationship with our city. In a leaked email to David Cameron, Desmond Swayne MP confessed that ‘Something dreadful happened to me in Manchester but I cannot put it on paper. I will tell you later.’)

Where I live there is a big concentration of police resources to protect the students who redistribute wealth from the Home Counties to South Manchester. The major problem in Fallowfield is predatory sex offenders waiting in the narrow places in the early hours for drunken women who stray from the main road and its light and safety. I hope GMP are working overtime to catch these scumbags. I’m sure they are.

The point is that citizens don’t walk around in fear of getting shot. The Moss Side stereotype doesn’t take into account the regeneration of the area, the arrest and incarceration of key gangsters and the determination of the community to make things work. I have walked through there and know middle class professionals who live there. As a cab driver said to me: ‘Twenty years ago, you drive through here fast.’ In 2008 Baltimore City had 234 murders, 191 of which were gun related, while Greater Manchester had 35 murders, none of which involved a gun. And Greater Manchester has 2.5 million souls compared to 650,000 in Baltimore.

Not everything about the Tory view of urban Britain is wrong. There are areas in Greater Manchester that are treated as private kingdoms by name families riding high on secure tenancies and housing benefit. There are pockets of stasis and corrosion. People don’t write about this world. Every now and again part of it surfaces as a benefit fraud case in the national tabloids, or as some appalling crime – Baby P, Shannon Matthews, Cromwell Street – that reminds us that there is cruelty and evil in working class culture. And yet gun violence isn’t exclusive to working class communities. I grew up in an affluent Cheshire town where they all support the team. Everyone remembers where they were when Chris Little had his head blown off at a traffic light on Stockport Road. ‘He stepped on too many toes,’ people will say, if you ask around. The Game extends to unlikely places.

Now Chris Grayling’s party is back in power and driving through austerity measures that defy not only social justice but also economic common sense. It may be that the Daily Mail image of the northern city will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and that the Manchester renaissance of the 1990s and 2000s was an aberration. From Alderley Edge to Alexandra Park, from the organic food shops and folk clubs of Chorlton village to the metal-boarded pubs and tower blocks of Pendleton, things can only get worse.

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