Commentary on the terrorist attack in Manchester
There is no more onerous responsibility for a local politician or senior officer than ensuring the safety of their local population.
It is therefore difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the burden last night’s terrorist attack suddenly placed upon senior figures in Manchester.
Dealing with a major terrorist attack that specifically targets children, more than 20 deaths, large numbers of injured or displaced and disorientated children, the near shutdown of local transport and the uncertainty over whether further terrorists are on the lose made the situation just about as difficult as it could get.
Many of those facing this responsibility are new to their roles. Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham (Lab) was elected little more than a fortnight ago while both Greater Manchester Combined Authority chief executive Eamon Boylan and Manchester City Council chief executive Joanne Roney started their jobs as recently as last month.
Of the most senior figures, only city council leader Sir Richard Leese (Lab) has considerable experience of anything remotely comparable in Manchester, having taken on his role a month before the IRA bomb that devastated its city centre in 1996.
But, of course, it has not just been Manchester’s leaders, including those of local government’s partner organisations, who have been working flat out to ensure the safety of both Mancunians and visitors to the city.
Few observers have been anything other than bowled over by the heroic nature of the response of the emergency services. And members of the public who literally opened their doors to help or provided the transport required to evacuate much of the city.
Through his role as the holder of Greater Manchester’s police and crime commissioner responsibilities, it was Mr Burnham who participated in this morning’s meeting of the government crisis response committee Cobra.
It also fell upon him and Mr Leese to articulate the mood of the city.
The two men, the power balance of whose roles remains untested in the city’s new governance model, stood shoulder to shoulder outside the historic Manchester Town Hall in a show of unity. Among the officials flanking them was Ms Roney.
Mr Burnham said: “After our darkest of nights, Manchester is today waking up to the most difficult of dawns. It is hard to believe what has happened here in the last few hours and to put into words the shock, anger and hurt that we feel today.”
He said that while the city grieved it would remain strong. “Today it will be business as usual as far as possible in our great city,” he stated.
Sir Richard said: “If it is confirmed this was a terrorist attack it is monstrous act but also a deeply futile one. Manchester is a proud, strong city and we will not allow terrorists who seek to sow fear and division to achieve their aims.”
Ms Roney tweeted: “As the day dawns after a long dark night my thoughts are with all those affected. My thanks to staff & colleagues who responded #Manchester.”
The city council has organised a relief fund and opened a book of condolence; Transport for Greater Manchester is continuing to advise on the inevitable disruption.
But no emergency response begins after the emergency. The city appears to have done what it could to prepare itself for such a happening.
Jon Rouse, chief officer of the Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership, said that as recently as one month ago emergency services had tested their response to a mock scenario “not too dissimilar” to last night’s outrage.
“We made a plan, we believed it’s a good plan, we knew where the individuals needed to be taken because of the types of injuries we could see they were presenting, and it was a case of getting them to those hospitals which specialise in that type of care and that’s what we did,” he said.
Much has been done to build cohesion in the city. It is notable that the ‘I love Manchester’ logo adopted by many as a Twitter profile image today is the logo of an independent organisation set up to build resilience following riots there in 2011.
On its website I Love MCR says of its birth: “Out of the carnage came creativity. It all began with a social media and guerrilla marketing campaign and – with the help of Manchester City Council – the brand has become an incorruptible symbol of the city’s resilience, civic pride and a platform for people who love Manchester.”
For those outside Manchester today has been about showing solidarity with the city.
Councils across Britain and the world have expressed their sympathy for the city. Liverpool and Birmingham – respectively rivals within the north-west region and for the status of England’s second city – were among the many who stood shoulder to shoulder with Manchester.
Liverpool City Region’s mayor Steve Rotheram (Lab) happened to be many personally affected by the tragedy. His daughters were at the Manchester Arena last night and only brought home through the perseverance of a taxi driver.
He tweeted: “Reports of spontaneous acts of great kindness by ordinary ppl in Manchester to perfect strangers. There is more that unites us than divides.”
While local communities crave devolution and the right to follow their own paths, at times coming together is the only response. No other part of England has gained as much devolution as Greater Manchester. But the city knows freedom by no means prevents unity.