Friday, 22 November 2013

Hull – City of Culture: a perfect example of left-wing daffiness

I paid my only visit to Hull twelve years’ ago. The BBC was involved in helping the company KIT turn the place into Britain’s first “connected” city – i.e. every house was supposed to be hooked up to broadband and able to access on-demand programmes on the TV. My department was the using the initiative to experiment with broadband TV services. Inevitably, the whole experiment relied on public money: the local MP was the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, which probably helped. Politics’ answer to “Fat Bastard” had organised an event at which he could gloat about snaffling yet more money from the public purse on behalf of his constituents, and free-spending BBC supremo and Labour-supporter, Greg Dyke was at the top of the guest-list.
A bunch of BBC types grumblingly took the East Coast train up for the day (none of us volunteered to stay overnight), sat through the usual "I'm brilliant, me!" speeches, then  mingled with the other bored guests, sipping wine and (I seem to remember) some really top-notch fish and chips masquerading as finger food. I escaped from the meaningless tedium to have a wander around the centre of the town, whose past glories were affirmed by a number of handsome, beefy, self-confident Victorian buildings. Everyone appeared to be white and overweight and dressed in shell-suits. I beat a hasty retreat back to the reception in time to mop up the last of the fish and chips, and then our BBC contingent bid a fond farewell to the epicentre of the “Armpit of Yorkshire” and set off for the train station (possibly in armoured vehicles - I can't remember).

As our train pulled out of Hull Station I experienced a similar sense of relief to the one I’d felt when our China Airways plane took off from Beijing Airport after I’d spent three weeks there with a BBC radio production team in 1986. On that occasion every non-Chinese person on the plane had cheered and applauded as soon as the wheels left the ground. But, while the general sense of escape as we left Hull was equally palpable, we confined ourselves to smiling and blowing the air from our cheeks. And we hadn’t even seen the less salubrious parts of the town (it boasts the lowest household income of any city in England).

I was reminded of all this when I read a report earlier this week that Hull had been named the UK’s City of Culture for 2017 by a panel of the liberal-left great and the good chaired by TV producer Phil Redmond, who announced that Hull had been a unanimous choice because it had put forward “the most compelling case based on its theme as 'a city coming out of the shadows'". In case anyone imagines that the City of Culture is a title bestowed on cities which actually boast a vibrant cultural life or heritage, think again – it's yet another way of funnelling public money into urban regeneration projects: as with practically ever other public sector initiative, the motive is to reward failure rather than celebrate success – i.e. it’s based on wishful thinking rather than reality.

Applying this time-honoured left-wing principle of flying in the face of reality, here are ten more titles to be dished out by special panels of deeply caring left-wingers – with a personal recommendation as to which city is most deserving of each award:

City of Happiness – Liverpool (one in five adults suffers from depression)

City of Friendliness – Glasgow (highest violent crime rate in Britain)

City of Temperance  - Glasgow, again (three times as many alcohol-related deaths as Liverpool or Manchester)

City of Brotherly Love – Leicester (highest assault rate in England)

City of Englishness – London (57% of new babies in London have mothers born abroad)

City of Honesty – Nottingham (highest incidence of serious crime of any English city)

City of Responsible Parenthood - Manchester (highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the UK)

City of Beauty - Birmingham (no explanation needed)

City of Christianity – Bradford (24.7% Muslim)

City of Private Enterprise – Swansea (38.5% public sector employment)

(Because so few people who work in government have a sense of humour or the slightest vestige of common sense, I feel I should point out that the above list is meant to be ironic – let me assure you, you already waste quite enough of our money on utterly daft schemes without adding to the list.)


  1. I must ask you to stop making derogatory remarks about the proud City of Glasgow otherwise you will be visited by members of our local chapter and you will be spending time in A & E having your face sewn back on. Tongs Ya Baz!

    1. Your threats have been noted, Mr Tong, and have been passed on to the Metropolitan Police - so no action will be taken.

  2. ".... I experienced a similar sense of relief to the one I’d felt when our China Airways plane took off from Beijing Airport ".

    Try three days in Kuwait City and then watch the take-off scene at the end of "Argo". I did visit Birmingham once and experienced similar emotions.

    1. I've stayed in three hotels in Birmingham. The first - the most expensive - was a dump (the single painting on the wall actually bore the imrpint of the bottom of a wet coffee-mug on it), the second - mid-range - vaguely sorded and depressing, and the third - cheap - provided me with the worst hotel room I have stayed in anywhere in the world ever - tiny, filthy, noisy and smelly.

  3. As the great Jack de Manio once said about Wales - "Why?". To paraphrase the Top Gear presenter, what must it be like to look in the mirror in the morning and think " I come from Birmingham". Neville Chamberlain was once the mayor. Blimey! And now they are building a high-speed rail link. I give up.