I’ve known Frank McKenna and Downtown for nearly all of the 20 years of its history.
When I left Insider in 2012 and was looking for something new I was so pleased to get a call from Frank to see if I could lean in and get the Manchester operation up and runnning again, and provide me with the editorial platform I always needed.
The three things that Frank always brings is an astute reading of the political tea leaves, good connections to civic leaders and impeccable access to national political figures of all parties.
In my time hosting events and and bringing the membership around the Downtown table I got a real opportunity to work with Frank and political editor Jim Hancock on the first of those. I used to tease Jim about his detailed knowledge of minor schisms on Hyndburn Council, for example, but he knew what mattered.
Secondly, Frank was trusted to work Manchester and provide an antennae for Sir Howard Bernstein. Howard’s success over decades was being able to connect people and for Frank to be invited to do that proved his worth to Manchester, despite the obvious more westerly accent.
Thirdly, what I will remember most fondly from my brief time working with Frank was the access we had to politicians and the invitations to contribute to critical debates. I got to know Labour figures like Andrew Adonis, Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger, but also Tories such as Chris Grayling and Esther McVey. But the Downtown tag also got me a front row seat at Manchester’s Science Museum where I was invited to meet with Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne and feed back on the Northern Powerhouse speech Osborne had just delivered. I think we said then it needed substance and funding, or it would be a time-limited gimmick. Antennae, you see.