I’m truly honoured to be a home-town boy from Manchester... and it looks like I’m in good company

The idea of joining Manchester and Liverpool, two cities divided by history, culture and heritage, is risible


I have always thought the honours system anachronistic and irrelevant in a modern democracy, but I can understand why many people don't share my view. Acknowledgement from the monarch of the land? What's not to like? Surely, it's the ultimate commendation for acts of altruism, heroism or service to the greater good. An old friend of mine was recently awarded the MBE - a rather unlikely prospect 20 years ago when we were behaving like adult tearaways together - and I was touched by the palpable pleasure it gave him and his family.

Perhaps there's something in the honours system after all. Not that I will ever find out personally, but a recent experience led me to believe that any form of public recognition makes one go weak at the knees. A couple of weeks ago, I was in Manchester, the city of my birth. In the centre of the city, there's a big redevelopment around the Central Library - a magnificent circular building inspired by the Pantheon in Rome - and Manchester Town Hall, regarded by many as the best example of Gothic architecture in the land. Around the building work, there's a huge hoarding, on which, instead of notices about hard hats and considerate builders (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one), is a collection of quotes under the title “Manchester Means The World To Me”.

It's a very striking piece of public art, and famous Mancunians, ordinary citizens, politicians, cultural figures are all represented. So Benjamin Disraeli takes his place next to a scout leader. And Eric Cantona is there, alongside someone who is billed simply as “Cheetham resident”. There are the modern ones who you'd expect - Noel Gallagher, Ian Brown, and Stuart Maconie - and the opening quote is from the late Anthony Wilson: “But this is Manchester. We do things differently here.”

Anyway, as I scanned bon mots from the good, the famous and the infamous, I cannot tell you the surge of pleasure I felt when I saw that the very last quote was one of mine, extracted from my column in this very newspaper. “I am a  Mancunian first, and an Englishman second,” it read. Ignore the fact that it was a paraphrase of what I actually wrote, and that it was reprinted without my being asked, I felt every bit as chuffed as if the Queen had pinned a ribbon on my lapel.

I also felt a swell of pride in my city, which is why I look askance at the idea - gaining currency lately - that Manchester should merge with Liverpool to form a northern Supercity. This thesis, first promulgated by a government minister as a reason to get behind HS2, has been taken on by the respected economist Jim O'Neill, who believes a metropolis such as this would help power Britain's economy. In fact, rather like these cities did separately from the Industrial Revolution onwards. The idea that Manchester and Liverpool, two cities joined by the East Lancs Road but divided by history, culture and rivalry, could become as one is risible. England is, in many ways, a parochial country. We thrive on localism. We rejoice in competition. We are proud of our heritage. And as I've just found out, our home towns mean the world to us.

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