A combination of the steady increase in hotels in the city coupled with the investment to make Manchester Central the best exhibition/conference venue in the country has meant that for a number of years now we have had the capacity to host increasingly large conferences. Not many come any bigger than the major party political conferences and particularly that of the party of government.
Last year we hosted the Labour Party conference for I think the third time - they return next year - and this year we host the Tories for the third time - they're due back in 2017. This year they've brought with them 12,000 delegates, lobbyists, exhibitors, press and general hangers on generating an estimated £26m to our local economy and helping to support thousands of local jobs. In addition the city gets enormous media coverage nationally and internationally. However there are those that say the Tories shouldn't be allowed to hold their conference in Manchester. I totally disagree.
I also disagree with most of what this government is doing just as much as any of the estimated 50,000 people who marched in the Save the NHS rally on Sunday. I believe that the government's austerity programme is seriously damaging the lives of millions of people in this country but the idea that as a result they should be banned from our city is both fundamentally undemocratic and the antithesis of everything this city stands for. At the last local elections there were still just over 6,000 people in Manchester who voted Conservative. Are they to be driven from the city too?
We are lucky enough to live in a peaceful, representative democracy, where, when power does change hands which it does reasonably regularly, it does so via the ballot box, not via the bullet or the mob. The Conservative Party, like the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party, the Greens and a few others, but unlike the extremists of both the left and right, are part of a broad consensus about how this country should be governed. The reason they can take decisions that most of us in Manchester don't like is because in the last general election they won more seats than anyone else and with their Lib Dem partners have a majority in parliament. I might, you might fundamentally disagree with them but they should be free to hold their annual conference in any part of the UK.
Manchester prides itself on its support for free speech, its support for the right to protest, for its ability to debate ideas, its ability to be provocative. It is deeply embedded in our history. That history ranges from free trade liberalism to Marxism with every strain of thought in between. The idea that we should ban one of the mainstream political parties would be a betrayal of our history, as would throwing away the economic benefit the conference brings.
I've also been criticised for sharing platforms with Tory ministers. Today I shared a platform with the Secretary of State for Transport and had no problem whatsoever. We were talking about HS2, something I passionately believe in, and something that like all long-term infrastructure programmes needs cross-party consensus to deliver. Sometimes it's more difficult but at the end of the day they are the party of government. Every day they make decisions that impact on this city and its citizens. My job involves standing up for Manchester and that means I should take every opportunity to argue Manchester's case with the decision makers in Whitehall.