A Tory MP sparked anger and ridicule by suggesting that southerners like opera and ballet while northerners prefer football.
Jake Berry, who was formerly minister for the Northern Powerhouse and continues to lead the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, made the comment while discussing the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on culture. Speaking in parliament, he said:
For many people who live in London and the south of England, things like the opera house and the ballet will be the heart of their culture.
In the north of England for many of us it is our local football club. Our Glyndebourne or Royal Ballet or Royal Opera House or Royal Shakespeare Company will be Blackburn Rovers, Accrington Stanley, Barrow, Carlisle or Sunderland.
His comments were met with an instant backlash. Because, not only do the north have plenty of opera houses, ballets and other centres of culture, but the south do, actually, have football teams.
Suggesting otherwise is "patronising" and "classist".
@BBCPolitics Jake Berry successfully demonstrating how to be patronising, divisive & demeaning in one announcement.
Berry reportedly sought to clarify his comments, telling the Lancashire Telegraph:
I was not criticising culture. You can love the arts and football as I do. I was just suggesting that it is time that the Premier League did something to preserve clubs in the lower leagues. [...]
No-one is saying football doesn’t exist in the south or that ballet doesn’t exist in the north. 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.
That may be so, but it's not like the arts and theatre sector isn't also currently struggling right across the UK.
Perhaps the government could keep both this and football afloat throughout the pandemic, without resorting to crude stereotypes to describe their fans.