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13 November 2020, 09:19
Former minister Jake Berry has been criticised for lazy north-south stereotyping, after likening football club Accrington Stanley to the Royal 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.”
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.
Following comments by Jake Berry in today's #PMQs, 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.— Northern Ballet (@northernballet) November 11, 2020
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?”
"The former northern powerhouse minister compared Accrington Stanley to the Royal Ballet..."— Richard Wheeler (@richard_kaputt) November 11, 2020
Sentences I never thought I'd write.
Jake Berry here on south v north, opera v football. pic.twitter.com/RRcQvPzkhm
This is a disappointing stereotype. Ballet lovers, football fans, northerners, southerners, life is tough for us all right now, and all aspects of our cultural life together matter. https://t.co/8VvnLmFcD7— Kate Wharton (@KateWharton27) November 11, 2020
Ah yes of course, us northerners couldn’t possibly enjoy the theatre, the arts or ballet— Liam Thorp (@LiamThorpECHO) November 11, 2020
If Mr Berry spent more time in the city of his birth he would know its arts scene is a lifeblood of the place https://t.co/V9JrZGseNI
Almost spat out my pint of Boddingtons when I read this. I think Billy Elliot might have a thing to say about Northerners and Ballet. https://t.co/nkU0Tr0SgV— Nick Bell (@nickbellofbpl) November 11, 2020
Grew up in Manchester without money but my parents gave me a love of ballet and classical music which has given me my lifetime career. Stop north south divide, it’s disgraceful https://t.co/vz0pUDnJXJ— Arlene Phillips CBE (@arlenephillips) November 13, 2020
This is not okay @JakeBerry - some of the country’s finest Art is created in the North, and the people are proud of it. @northernballet @the_halle @BBCPhilharmonic @Opera_North @RNSinfonia to name but a few of the most treasured and historic institutions of this country... (1/2) https://t.co/qLlTQcE3bm— Jonathan Lo (@jlo_conductor) November 11, 2020
Our former “Northern Powerhouse” Minister suggesting We up North live for football as the South live for the Arts— nazir afzal (@nazirafzal) November 11, 2020
No Jake, do not make the inability of Govt to fund/rescue local football a battle between North & South, nor one between Theatres & Sports
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.