Monday, 24 March 2014

"Leeds, Leeds...everyone hates us but we don't care" (except you do really)


OK, so I'm in Bradford meaning that what I say about Leeds is filtered through a historic rivalry. More recently that rivalry has been further tempered by a sort of sophisticated grumpiness - how come it is that Leeds is ever so shiny while Bradford struggles. We seek out the little wins - the fact that Bradford, all stone and grandeur, is so much better looking than Leeds; the superiority of the South Pennine uplands to grey, man-ruined central Yorkshire coalfield. And we point or laugh at the struggles of Leeds United.

But we're allowed this indulgence. It's a sort of West Riding sibling rivalry and, when the chips are down, both cities are both great and also in Yorkshire. Unlike Manchester.

So I smiled at this passionate grumble inspired (if that is the right word) by Evan Davies' 'Mind the Gap' programme on the BBC and its conclusion that 'only Manchester could compete with London'. Here's a flavour:

What the BBC tend to do on such occasions is ‘confuse’ the city of Manchester with Greater Manchester, which is not a city but a type of county. I’ve no idea how they sneaked Greater Manchester past the people of Salford, Bolton or Wigan. I do know that if, at any point in history, you suggested that an area of Yorkshire was called Greater Leeds then the proud people of Bradford, Wakefield, Halifax or Keighley (a town bigger than Wigan) would, quite rightly, be out on the street smashing and burning stuff.

Fighting stuff! But Mick McCann (in the mix for the biggest fan of Leeds as a city) needs to step back and ask a serious question. Why is it that Evan Davies concluded what he did about Manchester (other than rank bias because the BBC got transplanted - or is it dumped - in a city that isn't Manchester but is close by)?

Mick sets out all the statistics, observing that Leeds folk are wealthier, brainier and prettier than Mancunians, but this isn't the point. The point is that, while everyone knows about Manchester (blame football for this), Leeds is best described as "oh yes, Leeds, I forget about Leeds". Folk out there in the wide world know about Yorkshire - the Yorkshire marketing folk win prizes for their efforts:

Yorkshire's bumptious tourist board has retained its title as best marketeer in the World Travel Awards, the nearest thing to the Oscars in the industry.

And the county is great - what other English county gets its name chanted at rock concerts? (The London indie band Goodshoes, when they first appeared at the Cockpit in Leeds were taken aback - they thought the 'Yorkshire, Yorkshire' chant was 'You're shit, you're shit').  Across the world, Yorkshire ex-pats are telling people that it's the grandest, greatest, most beautiful and definitely most manly place on the planet.

But somehow this doesn't rub off on Leeds.

Leeds is boring, workaday, the dullsville of the West Riding. And not just because it lacks the glamour of a premier league football team. Ask people what there is in Leeds and they'll go, "er, shops?" People will stay in Leeds (hotels, restaurants) but remember the trips out of town - to Saltaire or Ilkley, to York and up into the Dales. So when someone asks those visitors where they went, the answer is Yorkshire not Leeds. Never Leeds.

Leeds needn't be boring - after all there's little to recommend Manchester (football and telly apart - and that's not really in Manchester anyhow) but it has scrubbed up well, put on its new pair of Converse and made out that it's the trendy place in the North.

Here's the problem for Leeds. Instead of a shaggy haircut, a beard and skinny jeans (or whatever is trendy these days - I'm not an expert) what Leeds has done is buy a Hugo Boss suit, some shiny shoes and a man bag. All those hipsterish trendsetters (or people who think they are and have access to a TV camera) aren't impressed.

So rather than dwelling on a (pretty impressive) arena, a (very fine) new shopping centre and some (splendidly grand) art and music venues, what Leeds needs to do is find something edgier, rougher and tougher. Perhaps change the perception so those visitors who came to Yorkshire go home and tell people they went to Leeds.

But what I do know is that moaning about how the BBC (or anyone else for that matter) has some sort of down on Leeds will get the city precisely nowhere.

Trust me on this, I'm from Bradford.



FrankC said...

Perhaps Leeds is just too "nice". They could import some Glaswegians as trainers. That would add "edgier, rougher and tougher".

Brigadier O'Deere said...

"Sophistication! Sophistication! Dont talk to me about sophistication I've BEEN to Leeds"

Anonymous said...

Good evening Simon, Mick here. I'll have to be quick, got to throw a kid at a bath and get on with our tea.

I'd never get into a Leeds V Bradford thing, although I don't know it as well as Leeds, I've spent a bit of time there and love Bradford. I even started to (jokily) suggest that the two cities should combine under the banner of Ladford Breeds.

I have never thought of myself as a Yorkshireman, I'm from Leeds and - partly agreeing with one of your points - have been chuntering for years about how Leeds is stuck under the shadow of Yorkshire. Yorks, for some reason, has a way bigger personality than Lancashire for example.

The idea that Leeds isn't rough enough has never occurred to me, I live in Armley and grew up in the plenty rough enough East Leeds.

You could make that food/bar/hotel argument for any other UK city other than London but Leeds has got way more going for it than that, as I'm sure you know.

For such a usually excellent econmoist/journo that prog was in no way objective. I've pointed it out to Evan on twitter and, although he discussed the prog on twitter in detail with idiots, he didn't want to discuss it with me. He instead sent me a couple of platitudes but avoided detail sa I think he realised it's a discussion he'd lose.

I think they chose Manc as it's almost all they know combined with through ignorance, a lack of research and mostly due to 'Manc is the UKs marvellous 2nd city' is a fantasy narrative the BBC have been peddling so long they've started to believe it.

The amount of coverage the Manchester Marketing Board (the BBC) give Manc creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Last thing, sorry I can't embrace the apathy of your last sentence. I will make a difference, I will change things (already have) I don't roll over in the face of ignorance and I will never let the b******s cheer me up.