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The media’s Manchester snobbery Britain's newspapers only pretend to be national

Being stocked in Salford doesn't make a newspaper national. Credit: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

Being stocked in Salford doesn't make a newspaper national. Credit: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images


November 18, 2022   6 mins

Late on Tuesday night, I was sitting on a bus back to Manchester city centre from Salford Quays, where I had just watched La Traviata at The Lowry theatre. I was the sole passenger on the top deck, except for one young guy in a hoodie sitting a few seats in front of me. He turned out to be an opera singer, studying at the prestigious Royal Northern College of Music. He leaned over to chat because he had heard me interviewing people after the show about the prospect of the English National Opera moving north — and wanted to give me his own views.

It probably wouldn’t work, he said. The audience for opera is in London. I told him I disagreed. We had both just witnessed first-hand a large and enthusiastic audience for opera in Greater Manchester, after all. Not only could the move work, but it would also be a great thing for the UK to have a leading company operating out of one of its most central and fast-growing cities. Allied with Opera North, whose production we had just watched and who tour the entire region from Leeds, it would make this part of the country a global opera powerhouse.

By the time I got off the bus, my companion was telling me how a Manchester ENO would allow talented musicians like him to stay in the North after graduating, rather than feeling forced to move to London, or overseas. “I’m just surprised that you are the only person making the argument,” he said.

The reason nobody has heard the case for a Manchester ENO is that the media coverage of this important arts story has been laughably, atrociously London-centric. “English National Opera fights ‘absurd’ plan to relocate to Manchester,” ran the headline of a story on the BBC. It quoted the ENO’s chief executive Stuart Murphy calling the move “insane” but didn’t counter his analysis with a single northern voice.

Several newspaper reports accepted, apparently without fact-checking, Murphy’s comparison of London’s “9 million people” with “Manchester’s half a million”. It seems neither the reporters nor the editors on those papers could see the mistake the ENO chief was making, although it seems that Northern readers pointed out the problem to the Guardian. The paper has removed Murphy’s misleading quote and replaced it with “a more accurate comparison between the greater metropolitan populations of London and Manchester”. (The population of Greater Manchester is almost 3 million.)

The ignorance didn’t end there. The Observer’s classical music critic Fiona Maddocks said the ENO plans “certainly make no sense” because Manchester is already “well served” by Opera North — a company that is based in Leeds and usually only comes to Salford for one week every year. Maddocks, perhaps, was straying a little outside her area of expertise: the Observer’s classical desk, as one of my readers emailed me this week, “pretty much exclusively writes about things staged in London”. The reader went on to point out that whereas Opera North’s headquarters, at Leeds’ Howard Assembly Room, are an hour and a half’s drive from central Manchester, “the ENO is about six minutes’ walk away from the Royal Opera House, so who is best served?”

It’s understandable that the art world is shaken by the idea of the ENO moving. It is a loss for most of the people making and writing about opera, because they live in London. And it makes sense for an industry to fight against imminent job losses, and to complain that the decision has been made without proper planning or pitch-rolling in the North. What is unforgivable is that the media acted as a supportive chorus for London-based vested interests. I’ve yet to see a story in the national press that doesn’t frame the ENO funding decision as a disastrous folly or a betrayal of the arts. (Melvyn Bragg, also in the Observer, described the Arts Council decision as “stealing arts cash from London”, as though the capital is entitled to as much as it likes from the national coffers.) And it’s not just me who clocks this London-centricity in British journalism — and hates it.

“It’s all been reported as ‘London is losing this thing’,” says a journalist from a national newspaper who I spoke to this week (who asked me not to use their name). “So they fucking should,” they went on. “Why should that be in London? If that’s taxpayer funded, if it’s the ‘National Opera’, why shouldn’t it be in Manchester? Why should Manchester residents have to travel to London?”

That journalist is one of the very small cohort of national newspaper correspondents not based in London, covering a patch that can only be described as “the rest of the country”. Of course, that’s impossible. “You’re not covering the country — you’re covering what Londoners want to read about the rest of the country,” this person told me, pointing out that the tabloids are better staffed out here in the wilds than the broadsheets are.

As the coverage of the ENO story makes clear, we don’t have a national press. We have lots of London newspapers whose claim to be national ranges from wafer thin — the Guardian has a staff of four in Manchester — to arguably fraudulent. Most of the national newspapers in England have fewer than five staff correspondents outside London. Some “nationals” don’t appear to have a single one.

“They call themselves national because they are sold in a shop in Cumbria, but they’re not national,” one northern editor told me this week. The papers that claim to speak for the whole country are, in the view of this seasoned reporter, clever variations on the London Evening Standard.

That’s the paper where I spent the first five years of my career, by the way. I’m a southerner who values the capital’s diverse and noisy journalistic scene. What’s annoying isn’t that the London media exists and is strong and argues eloquently and passionately for the protection and extension of London’s privileges — it’s that it does those things while pretending to be the national media. It makes total sense that newspapers whose editors and reporters almost all live in a single city would reflect that city’s interests and blind spots. But it doesn’t make for very satisfying coverage for those of us living elsewhere.

When I asked my Twitter followers for their favourite examples of London-centric media coverage following the ENO debacle, the answers came thick and fast. One theme was the assumption that everyone lives in London. There was a piece in the Sunday Times property section about moving to York which listed one of the downsides as: “It’s so far away.” There was a column in the New Statesman in which a well-meaning political journalist wrote: “In my view, every journalist should make a New Year’s resolution to get out of London more.”

Lots of replies to my tweet mentioned weather coverage, from the trivial — snow coverage tends to kick in when it’s snowing in the South East — to the rather sad. “When the North East had awful weather early last year, some areas of Northumberland had to wait weeks for all utilities to be restored,” one person wrote, noting that the story and its impact on millions of people was sparsely covered in the national news.

What shocks me, as a relative newcomer to the North, is how bad the public transport is — and how little I’d been prepared for it by reading the national (sorry, London) newspapers. There is no way that the current state of the North’s railways — appalling; unbelievable — would be allowed to continue if it were happening in the South East. It’s often journalists personally experiencing things that lead them to prioritise a story, and very few of them are experiencing the 23 cancelled services every day from Manchester to Leeds.

Imagine if this kind of disruption took place anywhere near London — actually, we don’t have to imagine: remember the Southern Rail strikes, reported as if it were a national emergency — the editors who frame our national debate would be firing off angry emails to their columnists and news editors from freezing platforms. The stink would be so great that ministers would be forced to drop everything and fix it within days. And yet up here, month after month, despite the attempts of local politicians to raise the issue, the crisis drags on, paralysing large swathes of the country.

After Brexit there seemed to be a moment of self-reflection in the British press, from certain columnists at least, regarding the abject failure to understand the brewing feelings and major demographic shifts that drove a seismic political event that few in London saw coming. But the reason for that short-sightedness was structural, not something a few fleeting trips to the high streets (never the more-important suburbs) of Northern towns is going to fix.

The structural problem is that if you have 95% of your workforce living in one world, you are going to miss a lot of important stories in all the other worlds that make up this country. “You have got an insane number of people sitting together in the same room with the same lives and talking about the same experiences,” as one Northern correspondent put it to me. “It’s utterly bizarre.”

I’m writing this article from The Mill’s office on Cross Street, over the road from where The Manchester Guardian used to be based. That building has long gone and is now a Boots, with a small plaque on the outside wall marking its former use. Within walking distance there used to be massive northern newspaper offices for the Daily Express, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail — an ecosystem, referred to as “the other Fleet Street”, that lasted for half of the twentieth century.

Technological change put an end to those operations and drove a radical centralisation of our media in London. But the technology we have now means that any news organisation can quite easily have dozens of reporters spread across every region. Suddenly, we would see a different kind of journalism creeping into the papers — one that tells us less about meaningless jockeying between random 20-something political advisors in Westminster, and more about how government policy is impacting people’s lives; how people hundreds of miles from the centre of power are experiencing the British state. The benefits of de-Londonising the media will flow far beyond journalism into policymaking and the nation’s understanding of itself. The newspapers could decide tomorrow that they want to represent this country properly again. And if they want us to call them nationals, they should.


Joshi Herrmann is the founder and editor of The Mill.

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Jane Watson
Jane Watson
1 year ago

Wow, bravo Joshi Herrmann! When I was at Sussex in the 70s, I was astonished that every single southern pal had never visited the North. I arranged a convoy to see David Bowie (Aladdin Sane) at Preston Guild Hall in 1973.

London was a great place to visit then, and we spent many weekends ambling around and buying Biba-label baked beans for our cupboards. Now I find it can be oppressive and overcrowded, and the tube is grim.

My professional fees (and those of most people) go to a London office, run by Londoners, and that money largely stays in the South. As you correctly point out, London is not the nation, and I would hazard a guess that there are still plenty of Southerners who have never visited a Northern town or city.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

I’d say that’d be a very good guess. When I worked in London in the 1990s, as a N Irish bloke who had studied in York and worked in Birmingham, it amazed me that so many very widely-travelled London area / home counties English people had never ventured North in their own country. 
But nobody thought this was odd. In fact, they actually boasted about never having been North – obligatory quips about “needing a passport above Watford” etc.
This metropolitan bias is true of all countries. I remember reading a stat about Dublin a few years ago which revealed that a staggering 96% of all new jobs in Ireland were based in Dublin. During covid lockdown, the “plight” of the baristas in Dublin city centre was mentioned in the Irish parliament – yet rural Irish towns in border areas have been in decline for many years, and it’s not on any radar. And you should hear how, after a few drinks, New Yorkers talk about people from rural US states …  

Last edited 1 year ago by Frank McCusker
Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

Did they enjoy the concert Jane? (I’m from Preston and know the Guild Hall well.)

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

It was brilliant. Back in the day when big names played the smaller venues. Saw Roxy Music there the day after they had been on Old Grey Whistle Test, Eno in feathers, the works. Saw Queen supporting 10cc at a pub in Liverpool about the same time.

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

It was brilliant. Back in the day when big names played the smaller venues. Saw Roxy Music there the day after they had been on Old Grey Whistle Test, Eno in feathers, the works. Saw Queen supporting 10cc at a pub in Liverpool about the same time.

John Simpson
John Simpson
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

I live about 60 miles north of Manchester and I’m 70 years old, I’ve visited the place about 3 times in my life. I know quite a number of people from my area who have never been there. They seem to manage OK.

Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago
Reply to  John Simpson

Many folk in Somerset have never been to London.

“Why would I want to go there?” is the usual response. And given the state of the city now, understandable.

Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago
Reply to  John Simpson

Many folk in Somerset have never been to London.

“Why would I want to go there?” is the usual response. And given the state of the city now, understandable.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

I’d say that’d be a very good guess. When I worked in London in the 1990s, as a N Irish bloke who had studied in York and worked in Birmingham, it amazed me that so many very widely-travelled London area / home counties English people had never ventured North in their own country. 
But nobody thought this was odd. In fact, they actually boasted about never having been North – obligatory quips about “needing a passport above Watford” etc.
This metropolitan bias is true of all countries. I remember reading a stat about Dublin a few years ago which revealed that a staggering 96% of all new jobs in Ireland were based in Dublin. During covid lockdown, the “plight” of the baristas in Dublin city centre was mentioned in the Irish parliament – yet rural Irish towns in border areas have been in decline for many years, and it’s not on any radar. And you should hear how, after a few drinks, New Yorkers talk about people from rural US states …  

Last edited 1 year ago by Frank McCusker
Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

Did they enjoy the concert Jane? (I’m from Preston and know the Guild Hall well.)

John Simpson
John Simpson
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

I live about 60 miles north of Manchester and I’m 70 years old, I’ve visited the place about 3 times in my life. I know quite a number of people from my area who have never been there. They seem to manage OK.

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
1 year ago

Wow, bravo Joshi Herrmann! When I was at Sussex in the 70s, I was astonished that every single southern pal had never visited the North. I arranged a convoy to see David Bowie (Aladdin Sane) at Preston Guild Hall in 1973.

London was a great place to visit then, and we spent many weekends ambling around and buying Biba-label baked beans for our cupboards. Now I find it can be oppressive and overcrowded, and the tube is grim.

My professional fees (and those of most people) go to a London office, run by Londoners, and that money largely stays in the South. As you correctly point out, London is not the nation, and I would hazard a guess that there are still plenty of Southerners who have never visited a Northern town or city.

MDH 0
MDH 0
1 year ago

This is good as far as it goes, but the author is only partly correct both in identifying the problem and suggesting a solution. More regional reporters would be a fine thing, but what has been missing from journalism for more than a generation is depth and breadth of experience that used to come from training on local newspapers.
I should declare here that I’m a product of just such training, and although I was not cut out for reporting and moved into the production side as a sub-editor pretty much as soon as I was able, I nevertheless had nearly four years of indentured apprenticeship which gave me first-hand experience of local government from parish to county council, and court reporting from local magistrates’ to crown court.
I started that training aged 18, in 1986. How many of Unherd’s writers don’t have degrees? Or have a background in reporting, rather than commentary?
The author’s own title, The Mill, may be a fine platform, but I see it offers long-form writing. Great for a career as a pundit, but not so good for reporting on grassroots issues.
The decline of the local press has been going on for decades. My hometown paper, which paid for my training, closed months after I joined the staff. Those days are never coming back, so what should be the modern equivalent? Because it’s not The Mill, nor for that matter, Unherd – great though it is.

Graham Thorpe
Graham Thorpe
1 year ago
Reply to  MDH 0

Well said MDH 0. Like you, I came through the provincial indentures route, before 15 years at one of those “Fleet Street of the North” newspaper offices in Manchester mentioned in the piece above. We spent a good part of our working time there repelling the London-centric news agenda of our London office. It was a constant battle that we won to a fair extent – but which of course is not fought at any level now.
The other big loss from the death of newspapers in the Provinces is of course the effect on local democracy. Really shocking.

Quentin David Kean
Quentin David Kean
1 year ago
Reply to  MDH 0

Not sure what a “grassroots issue: is. Granted the Mill doesn’t do a lot of what the local REACH press does: murder, traffic accidents, Corrie stars’ lovelives, football etc, but it does seem to have carved itself a niche with its long-form reporting on local politics, social issues and arts stuff. In a city the size of Manchester there are enough people who’ll pay for well-written and researched niche stuff that they can’t get anywhere else, as the Mill’s subscriber base shows.

Smalltime J
Smalltime J
1 year ago
Reply to  MDH 0

I’d add that the larger local newspapers do struggle on – the Manchester Evening News and The Yorkshire Post spring to mind as ‘real’ regional newspapers.

Graham Thorpe
Graham Thorpe
1 year ago
Reply to  MDH 0

Well said MDH 0. Like you, I came through the provincial indentures route, before 15 years at one of those “Fleet Street of the North” newspaper offices in Manchester mentioned in the piece above. We spent a good part of our working time there repelling the London-centric news agenda of our London office. It was a constant battle that we won to a fair extent – but which of course is not fought at any level now.
The other big loss from the death of newspapers in the Provinces is of course the effect on local democracy. Really shocking.

Quentin David Kean
Quentin David Kean
1 year ago
Reply to  MDH 0

Not sure what a “grassroots issue: is. Granted the Mill doesn’t do a lot of what the local REACH press does: murder, traffic accidents, Corrie stars’ lovelives, football etc, but it does seem to have carved itself a niche with its long-form reporting on local politics, social issues and arts stuff. In a city the size of Manchester there are enough people who’ll pay for well-written and researched niche stuff that they can’t get anywhere else, as the Mill’s subscriber base shows.

Smalltime J
Smalltime J
1 year ago
Reply to  MDH 0

I’d add that the larger local newspapers do struggle on – the Manchester Evening News and The Yorkshire Post spring to mind as ‘real’ regional newspapers.

MDH 0
MDH 0
1 year ago

This is good as far as it goes, but the author is only partly correct both in identifying the problem and suggesting a solution. More regional reporters would be a fine thing, but what has been missing from journalism for more than a generation is depth and breadth of experience that used to come from training on local newspapers.
I should declare here that I’m a product of just such training, and although I was not cut out for reporting and moved into the production side as a sub-editor pretty much as soon as I was able, I nevertheless had nearly four years of indentured apprenticeship which gave me first-hand experience of local government from parish to county council, and court reporting from local magistrates’ to crown court.
I started that training aged 18, in 1986. How many of Unherd’s writers don’t have degrees? Or have a background in reporting, rather than commentary?
The author’s own title, The Mill, may be a fine platform, but I see it offers long-form writing. Great for a career as a pundit, but not so good for reporting on grassroots issues.
The decline of the local press has been going on for decades. My hometown paper, which paid for my training, closed months after I joined the staff. Those days are never coming back, so what should be the modern equivalent? Because it’s not The Mill, nor for that matter, Unherd – great though it is.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

I spent the first 30 years of my life in London with only the most cursory and infrequent forays up north. But having spent the rest of my life based in the north, and Manchester is the south for me, I am aware of the excessive focus on London and the south in the MSM generally which greatly diminishes my interest in its obsessions. If the conservatives want to hang on to their red wall gains it might be worth their establishing a well staffed conservative office that is based up north so that many of the metropolitan obsessions of London-centric thinking are squeezed out of the party.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

I spent the first 30 years of my life in London with only the most cursory and infrequent forays up north. But having spent the rest of my life based in the north, and Manchester is the south for me, I am aware of the excessive focus on London and the south in the MSM generally which greatly diminishes my interest in its obsessions. If the conservatives want to hang on to their red wall gains it might be worth their establishing a well staffed conservative office that is based up north so that many of the metropolitan obsessions of London-centric thinking are squeezed out of the party.

Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
1 year ago

Personel is policy

True in Twitter, true in administration, true in legal matters, true in the FBI, true in journalism

Eexcellent article on aimportant, ismple and overlooked topic.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
1 year ago

Spot on!

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
1 year ago

Spot on!

Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
1 year ago

Personel is policy

True in Twitter, true in administration, true in legal matters, true in the FBI, true in journalism

Eexcellent article on aimportant, ismple and overlooked topic.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

I know the feeling. I live in a stunning coastal town in Southwest Florida. You should hear what the sophisticates in filthy, crime-ridden Manhattan say about us. Incidentally, that “journalist from a national newspaper” is a he or she, not a “they”. Capitulating to nonsensical “social” fads in grammar ruins an otherwise good piece.

Last edited 1 year ago by Allison Barrows
heidi herrmann
heidi herrmann
1 year ago

Allison, many people choose to be referred to as “they”, regrettably so. I should say it’s becoming rather common usage, certainly in the media. To suggest that it “ruins” a good piece is a little OTT 🙂

David D'Andrea
David D'Andrea
1 year ago

I understood “they” in this context as supporting the anonymity requested by the reporter.

heidi herrmann
heidi herrmann
1 year ago

Allison, many people choose to be referred to as “they”, regrettably so. I should say it’s becoming rather common usage, certainly in the media. To suggest that it “ruins” a good piece is a little OTT 🙂

David D'Andrea
David D'Andrea
1 year ago

I understood “they” in this context as supporting the anonymity requested by the reporter.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

I know the feeling. I live in a stunning coastal town in Southwest Florida. You should hear what the sophisticates in filthy, crime-ridden Manhattan say about us. Incidentally, that “journalist from a national newspaper” is a he or she, not a “they”. Capitulating to nonsensical “social” fads in grammar ruins an otherwise good piece.

Last edited 1 year ago by Allison Barrows
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

It sounds bleak oop north! But actually, as a resident in Greater Manchester and having been born here, i wouldn’t swap it for (anywhere in the rest of) the world. My student days were in London, and i enjoy visiting our capital but hsppy to return home. And actually, i don’t recognise Joshi’s depiction of the Manchester-Leeds train service. Yes, there’s a strike on at the moment so services will get cancelled, but not when i use the Manchester-Leeds line which is working pretty well in my experience. 23 cancelled services a day? No. Making a case based on an exaggeration isn’t a good idea.

There is, of course, something to be said for his points regarding London-centricity. My preferred solution would be for national bodies such as the ENO to do the simpler thing by visiting more often than the drastic step of relocation. There may be plenty of opera fans among the 3 million local residents, but would they attend often enough to enable the ENO to continue to thrive? More research is needed on such matters, rather than an emotive “we’re so hard done by” story. And there’s nothing worse than a northerner with a chip on his or her shoulder, especially one covered in gravy.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Well said, us southern ‘softies’ haven’t a clue really.

Carol Forshaw
Carol Forshaw
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I am pleased Steve is happy with the transport here in the North. Where can I start? We had the Pacer trains, bus bodies on wheels for 30 years longer than we should. The M60 was dug up for years and at the end of it is as congested as before they started. We had a perfectly good service to London with Virgin but the civil servants were determined to remove it. This was stopped initially by a judicial review but that did not hold them back and they succeeded eventually and gave us the s***show that is Avanti. Avanti thought they would get a 10 year contract which has been reduced to 6 months to see if they can improve which tells you all you need to know. I note that Crossrail and the Elizabeth line was completed before the money ran out so now they are cutting proposed changes to scheduled improvements in the North. HS2 has been reduced and if it reaches beyond Birmingham there will be a star in the East. Is that enough?

Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago
Reply to  Carol Forshaw

Try living in the South West, where public transport is largely conceptual. Regardless, we happily pay our taxes for HS2 and endless London public transport projects. We are not worthy.

Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago
Reply to  Carol Forshaw

Try living in the South West, where public transport is largely conceptual. Regardless, we happily pay our taxes for HS2 and endless London public transport projects. We are not worthy.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Well said, us southern ‘softies’ haven’t a clue really.

Carol Forshaw
Carol Forshaw
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I am pleased Steve is happy with the transport here in the North. Where can I start? We had the Pacer trains, bus bodies on wheels for 30 years longer than we should. The M60 was dug up for years and at the end of it is as congested as before they started. We had a perfectly good service to London with Virgin but the civil servants were determined to remove it. This was stopped initially by a judicial review but that did not hold them back and they succeeded eventually and gave us the s***show that is Avanti. Avanti thought they would get a 10 year contract which has been reduced to 6 months to see if they can improve which tells you all you need to know. I note that Crossrail and the Elizabeth line was completed before the money ran out so now they are cutting proposed changes to scheduled improvements in the North. HS2 has been reduced and if it reaches beyond Birmingham there will be a star in the East. Is that enough?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

It sounds bleak oop north! But actually, as a resident in Greater Manchester and having been born here, i wouldn’t swap it for (anywhere in the rest of) the world. My student days were in London, and i enjoy visiting our capital but hsppy to return home. And actually, i don’t recognise Joshi’s depiction of the Manchester-Leeds train service. Yes, there’s a strike on at the moment so services will get cancelled, but not when i use the Manchester-Leeds line which is working pretty well in my experience. 23 cancelled services a day? No. Making a case based on an exaggeration isn’t a good idea.

There is, of course, something to be said for his points regarding London-centricity. My preferred solution would be for national bodies such as the ENO to do the simpler thing by visiting more often than the drastic step of relocation. There may be plenty of opera fans among the 3 million local residents, but would they attend often enough to enable the ENO to continue to thrive? More research is needed on such matters, rather than an emotive “we’re so hard done by” story. And there’s nothing worse than a northerner with a chip on his or her shoulder, especially one covered in gravy.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
1 year ago

Moving the ENO to Manchester is absurd not because Manchester shouldn’t have a resident opera company but because it is robbing Peter to pay Paul. The ENO does a wonderful job in London which has comparatively fews opera companies by international standards. The right solution would be to fund a new opera company based in Manchester.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
1 year ago

Moving the ENO to Manchester is absurd not because Manchester shouldn’t have a resident opera company but because it is robbing Peter to pay Paul. The ENO does a wonderful job in London which has comparatively fews opera companies by international standards. The right solution would be to fund a new opera company based in Manchester.

Simon Melville
Simon Melville
1 year ago

While it certainly has its downsides, following a football team away from home will get you to the north. I very much doubt I would have gone to Doncaster, Hartlepool, Macclesfield, Tranmere, Carlisle and other exotic locales without following Bournemouth away from home in my twenties. The downside is that you have to have an iron constitution for beer, watch some terrible football and surround yourself with barbarians. But you do see England. I honestly think there’d be a greater sense of Britishness if we didn’t have (largely) separate divisional pyramids for all the nations.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Melville

If you didn’t have regional leagues, all the Celtic leagues would disappear.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Melville

If you didn’t have regional leagues, all the Celtic leagues would disappear.

Simon Melville
Simon Melville
1 year ago

While it certainly has its downsides, following a football team away from home will get you to the north. I very much doubt I would have gone to Doncaster, Hartlepool, Macclesfield, Tranmere, Carlisle and other exotic locales without following Bournemouth away from home in my twenties. The downside is that you have to have an iron constitution for beer, watch some terrible football and surround yourself with barbarians. But you do see England. I honestly think there’d be a greater sense of Britishness if we didn’t have (largely) separate divisional pyramids for all the nations.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 year ago

It’s not just the media in this country that confines itself to London and resides in a cosy, leafy enclave with mostly upper class white liberals, and then pretends to represent all of England.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 year ago

It’s not just the media in this country that confines itself to London and resides in a cosy, leafy enclave with mostly upper class white liberals, and then pretends to represent all of England.

Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago

Well, the dear old Manchester Guardian that I was brought up on in my childhood near Stockport, read by my classic Liberal parents, certainly went down the pan when it moved to the fleshpots of London. Finished off by the insufferably smug Rusbridger, it’s now unrecognisable, and seems to be inhabited by hysterics masquerading as “journalists”.

Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago

Well, the dear old Manchester Guardian that I was brought up on in my childhood near Stockport, read by my classic Liberal parents, certainly went down the pan when it moved to the fleshpots of London. Finished off by the insufferably smug Rusbridger, it’s now unrecognisable, and seems to be inhabited by hysterics masquerading as “journalists”.

Smalltime J
Smalltime J
1 year ago

As a northerner who grew up midway between Manchester and Leeds but who has lived in London most of my life, I’m a bit conflicted. However, fundamentally I do think moving the ENO is a bad idea, and that you don’t have to be hugely London-centric to think so.
Aside from the problem that the ENO has hundreds of staff members who might not all relish the idea of uprooting their lives and families to move to Manchester, I do think the Opera North thing is an issue. The Pennines aren’t an impregnable wall, and people do cross them for stuff like nights out, gigs, shopping and shows. In my experience the audience for the great cultural institutions in that area – Opera North, Leeds playhouse, the Royal Exchange, the Lowry – is basically the same set of people. It seems that this was the point that the chap this journalist met on a bus was making.
Also, the fact is that not only are the ENO and Opera North opera companies but they are both mid-priced, English language opera companies who turn out a mix of the traditional operatic repertoire and more crowd-pleasing light opera/shows. I’d be surprised if Opera North is delighted by this turn of events to be honest.
Finally – unpopular opinion alert – based on my own experience, from both growing up and from my friends in the north now, the audience for “high art” just is smaller proportional to population in the North compared to London. I’m in my 30s and have plenty of friends in middle class jobs in Leeds and Manchester and they just don’t go to the theatre/classical music performances in the way that people from a similar social background living in London do. They go to gigs, to pubs, to high end restaurants, but in my experience there is just not the same appetite for “high culture” in Yorkshire/Manchester. Not that there is no audience for that stuff, but it is smaller.
Also comparing the population of Manchester to Greater London is misleading, but I’m not sure that comparing the populations of Greater Manchester and Greater London isn’t equally misleading. Places like Wigan and Stalybridge are a 45 minute train ride to central Manchester (not to mention a world away for many residents, albeit I guess not the ones who are debating the ENO’s move). The radius of places that can get to central London in 45 mins by train is far wider than Greater London and takes in much of Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, Sussex etc.

Smalltime J
Smalltime J
1 year ago
Reply to  Smalltime J

Also – forgot to say that Opera North’s headquarters are – unsurprisingly – at the Howard Opera Centre. Not the Howard Assembly Room, as the author suggests (the Howard Assembly Room is a pop/jazz venue run by Opera North). Given that (it appears) the author himself hasn’t actually seen an opera from his region’s flagship opera company, I’m not sure why he’s so confident the region needs another one!

Smalltime J
Smalltime J
1 year ago
Reply to  Smalltime J

Also – forgot to say that Opera North’s headquarters are – unsurprisingly – at the Howard Opera Centre. Not the Howard Assembly Room, as the author suggests (the Howard Assembly Room is a pop/jazz venue run by Opera North). Given that (it appears) the author himself hasn’t actually seen an opera from his region’s flagship opera company, I’m not sure why he’s so confident the region needs another one!

Smalltime J
Smalltime J
1 year ago

As a northerner who grew up midway between Manchester and Leeds but who has lived in London most of my life, I’m a bit conflicted. However, fundamentally I do think moving the ENO is a bad idea, and that you don’t have to be hugely London-centric to think so.
Aside from the problem that the ENO has hundreds of staff members who might not all relish the idea of uprooting their lives and families to move to Manchester, I do think the Opera North thing is an issue. The Pennines aren’t an impregnable wall, and people do cross them for stuff like nights out, gigs, shopping and shows. In my experience the audience for the great cultural institutions in that area – Opera North, Leeds playhouse, the Royal Exchange, the Lowry – is basically the same set of people. It seems that this was the point that the chap this journalist met on a bus was making.
Also, the fact is that not only are the ENO and Opera North opera companies but they are both mid-priced, English language opera companies who turn out a mix of the traditional operatic repertoire and more crowd-pleasing light opera/shows. I’d be surprised if Opera North is delighted by this turn of events to be honest.
Finally – unpopular opinion alert – based on my own experience, from both growing up and from my friends in the north now, the audience for “high art” just is smaller proportional to population in the North compared to London. I’m in my 30s and have plenty of friends in middle class jobs in Leeds and Manchester and they just don’t go to the theatre/classical music performances in the way that people from a similar social background living in London do. They go to gigs, to pubs, to high end restaurants, but in my experience there is just not the same appetite for “high culture” in Yorkshire/Manchester. Not that there is no audience for that stuff, but it is smaller.
Also comparing the population of Manchester to Greater London is misleading, but I’m not sure that comparing the populations of Greater Manchester and Greater London isn’t equally misleading. Places like Wigan and Stalybridge are a 45 minute train ride to central Manchester (not to mention a world away for many residents, albeit I guess not the ones who are debating the ENO’s move). The radius of places that can get to central London in 45 mins by train is far wider than Greater London and takes in much of Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, Sussex etc.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

It should be mandatory for every Londoner to spend at least a year up north to broaden their horizons and gain some empathy as I and many others did in their studying years. It is the only way to break the Capital’s groupthink.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

It should be mandatory for every Londoner to spend at least a year up north to broaden their horizons and gain some empathy as I and many others did in their studying years. It is the only way to break the Capital’s groupthink.

Mark Sturdy
Mark Sturdy
1 year ago

excellent piece!

Mark Sturdy
Mark Sturdy
1 year ago

excellent piece!

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
1 year ago

It is far too expensive now to employ reporters on the ground so ‘the news’ is what happens on Twitter and what happens on Twitter is largely determined in a fairly small part of North London.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
1 year ago

It is far too expensive now to employ reporters on the ground so ‘the news’ is what happens on Twitter and what happens on Twitter is largely determined in a fairly small part of North London.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
1 year ago

This is all well and good but clearly it is ridiculous to have the ENO in Manchester.

It should be in Birmingham, where there is a world class venue for it, in the middle of the country.

Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

Bristol, where this former Cheshire lad lived for 25 years was served opera no by the ENO, but the WNO. And very good they were as well. Lucky enough to have seen a young Bryn Terfel as Falstaff there, and many fine performances. The much maligned Ruth Berghaus production of Don Giovanni there the first opera I aver saw (and the audience all sorts – some in evening dress, fair play and I in my Grateful Dead t-shirt) and absolutely knocked me out.
London messes institutions up now it seems to me.

Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

Bristol, where this former Cheshire lad lived for 25 years was served opera no by the ENO, but the WNO. And very good they were as well. Lucky enough to have seen a young Bryn Terfel as Falstaff there, and many fine performances. The much maligned Ruth Berghaus production of Don Giovanni there the first opera I aver saw (and the audience all sorts – some in evening dress, fair play and I in my Grateful Dead t-shirt) and absolutely knocked me out.
London messes institutions up now it seems to me.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
1 year ago

This is all well and good but clearly it is ridiculous to have the ENO in Manchester.

It should be in Birmingham, where there is a world class venue for it, in the middle of the country.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

as Rupert Murdoch famously said ” Britain’s class system will never die as long as people reinforce their own view of where they sit in it, by what newspaper they buy every day”… He also said, and so true for Britain’s ruling lower middles ” Britons are driven, ruled and obsessed by their opinion, of other peoples opinion, of them”…Yea verrily Amen…!!!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

as Rupert Murdoch famously said ” Britain’s class system will never die as long as people reinforce their own view of where they sit in it, by what newspaper they buy every day”… He also said, and so true for Britain’s ruling lower middles ” Britons are driven, ruled and obsessed by their opinion, of other peoples opinion, of them”…Yea verrily Amen…!!!

Saigon Sally
Saigon Sally
1 year ago

The point is people in Manchester travelling to London might well be able to combine their opera visit with some other activity whereas the opposite case is a great deal less likely.

neil morrison
neil morrison
1 year ago
Reply to  Saigon Sally

I can see why it would have been easier, for practical reasons, to base national institutions in London before everything went virtual, but there’s really no coherent excuse nowadays. Compared to other regions, the amount of money pumped into the capital is obscene, which in turn self-perpetuates the notion of the “provinces” being grim and impoverished.
And if you think the media ignores Manchester, spare a thought for poor Birmingham (the UK’s second city), generally only ever mention in mocking reference to the local accent (not that the London vernacular is itself particularly mellifluous).
It’s an ancient bone of contention reflected IN the media rather than being caused BY it (since the War of the Roses?): inflamed by London’s walloping international profile. Yes, having a global city is requires investment and upkeep: but the ENO being in either London or Manchester probably won’t irk all that many foreign visitors; even less so the more mundane national institutions and bodies that ought to pack up and venture forth beyond the M25.

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
1 year ago
Reply to  Saigon Sally

Yes because there is absolutely nothing else to do in Manchester or its environs. Ridiculous but at least you have outed yourself as a southern snob of the worst type. Bravo!

neil morrison
neil morrison
1 year ago
Reply to  Saigon Sally

I can see why it would have been easier, for practical reasons, to base national institutions in London before everything went virtual, but there’s really no coherent excuse nowadays. Compared to other regions, the amount of money pumped into the capital is obscene, which in turn self-perpetuates the notion of the “provinces” being grim and impoverished.
And if you think the media ignores Manchester, spare a thought for poor Birmingham (the UK’s second city), generally only ever mention in mocking reference to the local accent (not that the London vernacular is itself particularly mellifluous).
It’s an ancient bone of contention reflected IN the media rather than being caused BY it (since the War of the Roses?): inflamed by London’s walloping international profile. Yes, having a global city is requires investment and upkeep: but the ENO being in either London or Manchester probably won’t irk all that many foreign visitors; even less so the more mundane national institutions and bodies that ought to pack up and venture forth beyond the M25.

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
1 year ago
Reply to  Saigon Sally

Yes because there is absolutely nothing else to do in Manchester or its environs. Ridiculous but at least you have outed yourself as a southern snob of the worst type. Bravo!

Saigon Sally
Saigon Sally
1 year ago

The point is people in Manchester travelling to London might well be able to combine their opera visit with some other activity whereas the opposite case is a great deal less likely.