Tory MP mocked after saying northerners like football but southerners prefer opera

Colin Drury
·2-min read
NRG leader Jake Berry (PA)
NRG leader Jake Berry (PA)

They are comments that have gone down about as well as a performance of Madama Butterfly might do on a Saturday afternoon at The Den.

A Conservative MP has been widely mocked after suggesting people in the south like highbrow culture while those in the north are only interested in football.

Jake Berry said opera, ballet and theatre were “at the heart of” southern communities but, in the country’s upper half, “it is our football clubs”.

The former northern powerhouse minister – who is himself from Liverpool and represents Rossendale and Darwen in Lancashire – made the bizarre comparison as he warned that “northern culture” was being devastated by the coronavirus pandemic during a Westminster debate.

He suggested Accrington Stanley, Barrow and Carlisle football clubs were the northern equivalents of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

And while fans of all those teams might agree that they experience plenty of tragedy and comedy, the likeness was widely slammed – by both northerners and southerners – as pedaling nonsensical stereotypes.

“We are disappointed that an MP and former government minister continues to perpetuate tropes that culture in the north is of less value than that in London,” the Northern Ballet company, which is based in Leeds, almost immediately tweeted.

"In the same way that sporting clubs are of great importance to many people throughout the country, including in the south, culture is equally important to a huge percentage of people in the north…

"Culture being produced in the north is of world-class quality, vibrant and innovative, and contributes greatly to both society and the economy.

"We hope that one day this will be recognised by all."

Andrew Gwynne, Labour MP for Greater Manchester, added: “It shouldn’t need explaining that many northerners love the Halle Orchestra and many southerners love football.

“Instead of trying to divide people with stereotypes, the government should do the right thing and support culture and sport through these difficult times.”

But it was the wider reaction online that was perhaps most cutting.

“I miss having a pre-opera pint on a Saturday,” wrote one Bexhill-on-Sea football fan.

Another posted a picture of jeering Millwall fans. “Discovering a football match has replaced [by] an outdoor performance of Cosi fan tutti,” they wrote.

Responding to the criticism of his original comments, Mr Berry, who leads the recently founded Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, later said: "No one is saying football doesn't exist in the south or that ballet doesn't exist in the north, and no one is saying that a thriving football league is more important than a thriving arts sector.

"What we are saying is that many of our working communities in the north are built around our football clubs, and disproportionately, those clubs now find themselves on the precipice of financial collapse and supporters will be rightly asking the question why they too are not being given financial assistance through this crisis."

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