Backlash over ‘disappointing stereotypes’ as MP says northerners like football, southerners prefer ballet

13 November 2020, 09:19

Andy Berry suggests 'northerners like football, southerners prefer ballet'
Andy Berry suggests 'northerners like football, southerners prefer ballet'. Picture: Getty/Twitter

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Former minister Jake Berry has been criticised for lazy north-south stereotyping, after likening football club Accrington Stanley to the Royal Ballet.

A conservative MP has come under fire for suggesting people in the north of England prefer football, while those in the south enjoy opera and ballet.

Jake Berry, the former Northern Powerhouse minister, warned during a debate over support for the economy in the north of England that “northern culture” is being hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.

Berry made the comparison as he urged the government to intervene to “save” football clubs which are the “cornerstone” of communities.

He said: “First of all is the hit that northern culture has taken from this Covid crisis. For many people who live in London and the south of England, things like the opera house and ballet will be at the heart of their culture.

“But in the north of England, for many of us it is our local football club. Our Glyndebourne, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House or Royal Shakespeare Company will be Blackburn Rovers, Accrington Stanley, Barrow, Carlisle and Sunderland.”

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Jake Berry MP compares Accrington Stanley to the Royal Ballet

The Northern Ballet, the Leeds-based ballet company who in May warned it had lost £1m from cancellations due to the pandemic, said on Twitter it was “disappointed” by the former minister’s comments, which “continue to perpetuate tropes that culture in the north is of less value than that in London”.

“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,” the ballet company added.

Berry’s comments have since sparked a Twitter storm from arts lovers with many tweeting names of beloved northern cultural institutions to the MP, including the Theatre Royal, Sage Gateshead and the Bridgewater Hall.

Mezzo-soprano Eleanor Watts tweeted: “The North has their own opera and ballet companies. The South has football clubs. BOTH are vital cultural institutions. Stop comparing them and widening the divide.”

Another user jibed: “Does he think Northerners wear flat caps and keep pigeons, and Southerners have a box at the ballet?”

Political philosopher Phillip Blond defended Berry’s comments, saying: “The reaction of many to this is full of class prejudice.

“Jake Berry isn’t saying local football replaces high culture he is saying that for many it is where they find their high culture – and it is Shakespearean and operatic, true high culture sees the transcendent in the ordinary.”

In pandemic times, both the arts and football have been deeply impacted. Both are held dear to many, and are as important as each other – wherever you are in the country.