Anyone who has read Elizabeth Gaskell will know how grim life was in 19th century Manchester. Indeed the whole area that has now become the conurbation of Greater Manchester had some of the worst housing and working conditions in the world, so it was inevitable that the English socialist movement would start here rather than London.
150 years on, the heirs of the Rochdale Pioneers are in power. I remember the night of the 1997 election, almost ten years ago, when 18 years of Conservative rule finally came to an end. The following morning most people were on a high. We believed that we had ushered in a new era that, like the Labour government of 1945-51, would transform society and bring morality back into politics. How wrong we were.
Tony Blair's Labour government has failed in so many ways - the most conspicuous example being Iraq - but for me the most symbolic act has been the decision to make Manchester the site of Britain's first 'supercasino'. The men and women who fought so hard to improve the conditions of the working class must be turning in their graves to discover that the party that they founded, is trying to regenerate inner city Manchester by encouraging the building of casinos.
There has been a lot of coverage in the news about this, but the angle has mainly been about whether it should have been Liverpool or Manchester. Very few people have actually questioned the whole notion of encouraging gambling, which generally makes the poor even poorer.
Perhaps I'm being prejudiced. My family have always been very anti-gambling because three generations ago my great-grandfathers were compulsive gamblers and ensured that their children grew up in poverty. When they had a bad night they returned home drunk, beat their wives up and took the housekeeping money. Unsurprisingly, my grandparents didn't want to emulate the older generation.
However, prejudice aside, it surely can't be right that a government whose origins lie in the Socialist movement is now seeking to improve social conditions in Manchester by encouraging gambling.