After coming to power in 1984, Manchester’s ‘New Urban Left’ were for a while at the forefront of those radical councils seeking to use the local state both as the primary site of resistance to the Thatcher government, but also to develop a genuinely ‘prefigurative’ local socialism. However, in Manchester this experiment proved short‐lived. The subsequent entrepreneurial project has proved both durable and more distinctive. This article provides a detailed narrative account of the transition from ‘municipal socialism’ to the politics of ‘Manchester First’. Whilst summarizing the notable differences between the two projects, the paper argues that an interpretative emphasis on the apparent political U‐turn after 1987 obscures important continuities. With hindsight, the municipal Left can be credited with redefining the role of local authorities in relation to the economy, creating a space for proactive local and regional economic strategies. At the same time, the embrace of urban entrepreneurialism in the late 1980s did signal a marked shift in the perception of what was actually possible in terms of the parameters and constraints on local strategy.