Today
Thu 29 July 2021

The ‘urban metropolitan elite’ narrative suits a political agenda but it does not reflect the reality of the UK today, argues Maheen Behrana

The launch of GB News has prompted much fanfare. But, looking past the technical glitches, it is clear that Andrew Neil’s new channel is one with an agenda.

GB News has overtly positioned itself as ‘anti-woke’ and claims to be a voice for the ‘unheard’. This is framed around an opposition to metropolitan centres as so-called fulcrums of toxic wokery.

GB News will not be yet another echo chamber for the metropolitan mindset that already dominates our media,” said its chairman Neil in his opening monologue. “It is our explicit aim to empower those who feel their stories, their opinions, their concerns, are being ignored or diminished.”

Yet this trend is not just reserved to GB News. A recent Daily Mail article by David Skelton (whose credentials as the grandson of a steelworker from Durham are repeatedly talked-up) lambasted the “snobbery of the metropolitan elite”. Labour MP Khalid Mahmood recently despaired of young, urban-dwelling Labour voters, describing them as “woke social media warriors” and part of a “London-based bourgeoisie”.

Those who hold the truth in high esteem will find it easy to dismiss these pronouncements. GB News has made the fabricated ‘culture war’ between right and left its central purpose, confecting a conflict between an urban left-leaning elite and an unheard but ordinary multitude of small-town and rural Brits.

Yet, at the same time as making these pledges, GB News is bankrolled by figures who embody elitism – from foreign investment companies to Brexiter hedge-fund managers. It is even part-owned by two Conservative Lords. Neil can shout all he likes about the ‘left-behind’ but that does not change the fact that he lives in a luxury villa on the French Riviera.

The hypocrisy of GB News is blatant – you only have to look.


Left Behind Britain

The idea that a destructive regional inequality exists in the UK is a legitimate one. Britain is more geographically unequal than any other rich country and infrastructure spending has been heavily concentrated in London and other areas of the south in recent years. With many northern towns having lost their industrial employers over the past few decades, it is these places that are struggling to generate new jobs. Transport is also notoriously bad outside of the capital.

But geography isn’t binary. While regional inequalities most certainly exist, they are nuanced in a way that GB News does not consider. Perhaps more shocking than the inequality between regions is the inequality within regions. London actually has the highest rates of child poverty of any region in the UK and Londoners’ household incomes have not grown at the same rate as elsewhere in the country, while cripplingly high housing costs mean that many seemingly middle-income Londoners are facing huge financial burdens.

Nevertheless, narratives popular with voters of all stripes frame regional inequality as one of our most pressing concerns. A 2021 King’s College London study found that fears about geographical disparities were common among many participants.

However, this same study – which found that people were remarkably harsh towards those who had lost jobs during the Coronavirus pandemic – also found that participants were divided over whether racial inequality was actually. Those surveyed were not as concerned about gender inequality as with other disparities. It is no wonder, then, that ‘levelling-up’ (at least in theory) remains high on the Government’s agenda.

But, while demonising urban areas might play well in ‘Red Wall’ target seats, it is not an accurate reflection of modern Britain.

An interesting mix of insight and ignorance, Skelton’s Daily Mail article rests on the idea of a civil war between metropolitan elites and the rest of the country. He casts Labour as the “snooty party”, populated by elites who in reality look down on the things they profess to care about. He then accuses ‘elite’ institutions (such as the BBC) of mocking northern, Leave voters and taking the side of the ‘snobs’.

At the same time, he laments the fact that personal achievement is limited by social background and complains that ordinary people with ordinary jobs are unable to afford houses or to have families. He even makes salient points about growing corporate greed: “We have witnessed a transfer of power and wealth from workers to companies.”

But he roots all of these points in the notion of geography, almost studiously avoiding the topic of inter-generational inequality, despite lamenting that things just aren’t as fair as they once were.

And this is because city-dwellers are not the real bogeymen here – in fact, many of them are people who feel the sharp end of inequality. They live in areas where housing costs strangle their disposable income; they compete for jobs that may look prestigious but in reality offer far less in real terms than they once did. Most London children do not live in a Chelsea townhouse. Instead, many suffer the ill-effects of overcrowding; of air-pollution; many lack green space.

But even if city-dwellers aren’t elites, presenting them as such can be useful – politically and commercially. All the while, one ordinary person criticises another ordinary person, without realising that they are united in their ordinariness – in much the same way as our Eton-educated leaders and millionaire media moguls are united in their elitism.

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

Thank you for reading this article

New to Byline Times? Find out more about us


SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION

A new type of newspaper – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund a better media.

Don’t miss a story…

Our leading investigations include Brexit, Empire & the culture war, Russian interference, Coronavirus, cronyism and far right radicalisation. We also introduce new voices of colour in Our Lives Matter.

More stories filed under The Crisis in British Journalism

More stories filed under Argument