My take on Michael Heseltine, after yesterday's ground-breaking report:
In the post-Thatcher years, the Conservatives' reputation in Manchester could hardly have been at a lower ebb.
This was a city that bore the scars of a decade and more of economic policies aimed more at satisfying the bankers and business-owners of London than the people of Moss Side, Gorton or Harpurhey.
There were the social scars caused by high unemployment and rising crime; and there were the physical scars, too, in the form of empty offices and run-down terraced estates.
The political effects were dramatic, too. Since 1987, no Conservative has been elected to sit on Manchester council.
Throughout this, though, there was one Tory 'big beast' with whom the local Labour leaders felt they could do business: Michael Heseltine.
It started in 1991. Heseltine – then environment secretary – approved £7.5m of government funds to kick-start a plan to virtually rebuild Hulme. The project was embraced by both the Labour-dominated town hall and the private sector – who contributed a further £81.5m - and was hailed a model for the rest of the country.
At the time, this was revolutionary stuff: Treasury cash being used to 'lever in' private-sector funds, with the help of the local council doing large-scale public consultation. It would become the model on which modern Manchester's success was built.
Heseltine surfaced again, in 1996, after the devastating IRA bomb ripped the heart out of Manchester. He travelled north to meet the new council leader, Richard Leese – and surprised him not by quibbling about money, but agreeing to a bold masterplan for a entire new city centre.
What followed was a string of meetings, in Manchester and Westminster, between Heseltine, Leese, and Howard Bernstein. They pored over plans and eventually agreed on a figure of £90million of public money to put it into action.
It was Heseltine who suggested the international design competition that led to the creation of the modern-day 'Cathedral Quarter', and New Cathedral Street – now home to flagship stores like Selfridges and Harvey Nichols.
What Heseltine proved then, and has continued to prove ever since, is that he is one of those rare politicians whose vision transcends party politics. He is a man who cares passionately about the country's great cities – he transformed Liverpool, too - and the potential they have to drive economic growth. His new report is audacious, brave, and in parts quite brilliant. Let us hope the government can rise to the challenge he has set.