'Northern Powerhouse' and other Irritating Northern Media Stereotypes

The Northern Powerhouse

Coined by George Osbourne, the term ‘Northern Powerhouse’ refers to a plan to invest more resources into the North of England.  This may sound good on paper, but the way the term is used can be quite irritating.

In a 2014 speech, Osbourne defined the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ as being ‘not one city, but a collection of northern cities - sufficiently close to each other that combined they can take on the world’.  There are two problems with this:

  1. The focus on cities, which Osbourne describes as ‘thriving again’.  What about all the smaller post-industrial towns that have fallen victim to years of austerity?
  2. ‘Take on the world’ – let’s be realistic, this hyperbolic ideal is not going to happen.  Even if you say the magic word ‘powerhouse’ fourteen times in one speech…

Since the ex-Chancellor’s proclamations, ‘Northern Powerhouse’ has gained widespread usage in the media.  There are even plans to build a railway line of the same name to connect cities together.

These intentions are all well and good, but please can we choose another name for all this?  I’ve never heard anyone call the supposedly more developed South a ‘powerhouse’.  A quick search for the definition of the expression reveals its industrial connotations: energy, power…even an electrical generating station.  We’re not just all manual/factory labourers you, know.

In my opinion, the government needs to find another label for this scheme.  How about ‘Truly appreciating and investing in the intellect and skill of the disadvantaged half of the country’?

Boozy, criminal and unintelligent

Nowadays, there is much less TV stereotyping of the North.  Many comedians such as Peter Kay may use their ‘broad’ accents to caricaturise themselves, but this is a self-referential joke.  What isn’t a joke, however, is the fact that many television series portraying ‘Northerners’ are upholding and perpetuating tropes associated with the region.

Take Geordie Shore, for example.  The reality TV show follows groups of Newcastle residents whose lives seem to revolve around gossip, drinking, and partying in the Toon. 

Peaky Blinders, on the other hand, maintains a different kind of cliché.  Admittedly, the series’ setting in Birmingham may not be the North in some people’s eyes.  However, it cannot be denied that the city falls victim to similar stereotypes to its northern counterparts.  Telling the tale of criminal gangs, Peaky Blinders adheres to the widely held belief that Birmingham is a hub of criminal activity.  And, according to studies, people associate this Brummie criminality with low intelligence.

How many programmes have you seen in which northerners are portrayed as non-deviant, educated and successful individuals?  (Please don’t suggest Corrie…)

Full of foolish Brexit voters

“There is an idea that voters in the North [are] thick, xenophobic or they didn’t understand their vote. I know from my own constituency that is absolutely not the case. What people were calling for was fairness”.

Labour MP Andy Burnham made this statement during a 2016 speech at the State of the North conference in Leeds.  What he means by fairness is this: for many in the North, a vote for Brexit was a cry for help, a demand for a more just society with an even balance of power and wealth throughout the UK.

Surely, I hear you exclaim, these people didn’t really believe that Brexit was the answer to their woes?  Given the campaign encouraging voters to ‘take back control’, it is not surprising that the prospect of leaving the EU became widely associated with regaining power and influence.

This quote from the Independent sums up the situation nicely: ‘They [Brexit campaigners] disingenuously insisted that the EU and migrants had caused the North’s woes. They said nothing of the unregulated markets and austerity that cut their inhabitants wages and benefits’.

Let’s not stigmatise all voters above the Watford Gap.  It’s the media and political spin that need to be scrutinised.

All in all, people from the North are generally underrepresented in politics, television, journalism and much more.  And when they do crop up, they never quite seem to be as astute as their ‘refined’ friends from the South.  As a Northerner myself, I am studying at university, voted Remain (shock horror) and am hoping to move abroad.  I know many others who don’t fit the stereotypes.  So, rather than listening to sweeping generalisations about the North (and the South) in the media, I would advise getting to know people who are different from you and appreciating them for their personalities rather than where they are from or what accent they have, love.

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