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Coronavirus: North of England exhausted by Covid-19 rules

By Kevin Fitzpatrick
BBC North West political editor

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  • Coronavirus pandemic
image copyrightPA Media
image captionDuring the press conference, Andy Burnham insisted the city was "fighting back"

There will be many images that are remembered from this pandemic, but in the North West, perhaps, one of the most enduring will be that of a cagoule-wearing Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, stood on the library steps, angrily accusing the government of treating the North with "contempt".

It was the culmination of months where different restrictions were tested in various towns in the region, all of which ultimately hit the local economy but failed to stop the spread of the virus.

It was also the articulation of a growing resentment felt by local people, and local politicians of all sides, that decisions were being made in Westminster with big implications for communities and businesses here.

That al fresco press conference was soon followed by another, days later, after talks over funding for business support in tier three finally collapsed over a disputed £5m and it's against this backdrop that the results of the poll can be viewed.

A significant majority of respondents feeling the South has been treated more favourably will make grim reading for the government and especially its new "Blue Wall" Conservative MPs, some of whom were elected for the first time in December on a promise of "levelling up".

The government decision at the weekend to continue the furlough scheme, paying 80% during this new national lockdown, when it insisted 67% was all it could afford for staff at businesses forced to close in the North, has enabled Mr Burnham to accuse ministers of knowingly "levelling down".

While the tier three row highlighted the strength of voice that a high profile metro mayor can now have, it also showed that, ultimately, it's still the government which has the final say.

It's clear the residents of northern towns and cities feel browbeaten and exhausted by the virus, alongside a sense of injustice that it never really left.

As the second wave takes hold, there's still a long way to go in this crisis.

Already though, Conservative MPs quietly voice their fears that this last month has done lasting damage to their brand in constituencies where voters were persuaded to lend their support to Boris Johnson and go Tory for the first time.

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