A Conservative MP has been criticised for saying people in the south of England are more likely to enjoy ballet and opera, while northerners prefer football.
Jake Berry, a former northern powerhouse minister, made the comparison as he warned “northern culture” was being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“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,” he told a Westminster Hall debate.
“But for many of us in the North 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.”
Mr Berry, who represents Rossendale and Darwen and leads the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, added that action is needed from Westminster to protect clubs that are the “cornerstone” of their communities.
Treasury minister Kemi Badenoch did not address the MP’s plea in her reply, acknowledging the North of England has been a “hotbed” of energy, ideas and creativity for centuries.
Northern Ballet, which is based in Leeds, voiced disappointment at the MP’s comments and accused him of perpetuating “tropes that culture in the North is of less value than that in London”.
It added on Twitter: “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.
“Our home city of Leeds is the only city outside of London to have its own resident ballet, opera and theatre companies.
“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.”
That prompted football-loving Mr Berry to deny he was off target, protesting: “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.”
And he hit back: “Our football clubs in the English Football League, almost all of them the social cornerstone of the towns and cities they bear the names of, now stand on the brink of a financial collapse. These are structures that have taken decades to establish and will take decades to replace if they go bankrupt.
“The government’s position that ‘football should sort itself out’ is also deeply concerning when you consider the comparative generosity being extended to other industries – for example, the £1.5bn funding package to the arts sector alone.
“While football grounds in Sunderland, Blackburn, Barrow and Preston might seem an awful long way from Glyndebourne or the Royal Ballet (as important as they are), they are nonetheless equally important parts of our nation’s heritage and cultural fabric.
“The football clubs and communities I have spoken with don’t care where the help comes from; whether it be the government or the Premier League – they just want our support.
“Otherwise, in coming weeks, these long-standing pillars in our community are going to be lost for good and the outstanding work they have done in our communities will cease to exist.”
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