It’s time to drop the negative stereotyping of Liverpool

Liverpudlians are often accused of paranoia about how they are viewed by others, but it is little wonder when we see yet another broadsheet article about the city peppered with references to the Toxteth riots, militancy and striking dockworkers (Spending cuts: Liverpool facing ‘worse than the worst-case scenario’, 22 October). Yes, that is our history, but the city has moved on. The article opens with the line “Liverpudlians have long been exasperated at the persistence of the ‘gizza job’ tag bequeathed by … 1980s drama Boys from the Blackstuff”, and then goes on to tread over the same tired old cliches.

Even the picture that accompanies the report, captioned “boarded-up houses in Toxteth, Liverpool” despite the fact that only one of the houses in the image has boarded-up windows, serves to reinforce the bleak image that is given of Liverpool in the national press.

Particularly problematic is the continual negative focus on the Toxteth area “almost 30 years after a riot in 1981 became a symbol of the consequences of Thatcher’s policies”. That is not to deny the many problems that Toxteth faces, but it isn’t the most deprived part of the city; constantly referencing it as a touchstone of poverty only serves to reinforce the ingrained stereotypes the district faces. Do Chapeltown in Leeds or Birmingham’s Handsworth, also home to riots in 1981, receive this constant barrage of negativity?

Meanwhile, what is not mentioned is that around the corner from where the photograph illustrating the article has been taken are grand Georgian and Victorian mansions inhabited by property developers and art gallery directors.

The article touches on the city’s urban regeneration and European Capital of Culture status, but there is scant mention of the genuine economic development Liverpool has undertaken over the past few years. The Jaguar and Land Rover plant in Halewood is regularly hailed as one of the best car factories in the world; nearby is one of Europe’s largest printing plants, producing national and international magazines. The city is also a leading centre for computer games design, a growing biotechnology hub, the largest centre for wealth management outside London … I could go on.

It is true that these savage ideological cuts will hurt Liverpool. Like many regions in the UK, the city relies heavily on the public sector and suffers from a legacy of successive governments that have been happy to let its manufacturing sector fall by the wayside. In addition, cuts to the police force will undermine the work done to curb the destructive local gangs, and the loss of services will hit our poorest residents hardest. But there are ways of reporting this without consistently reinforcing negative stereotypes against our community and harking back to the city’s worst times.

The economy is still fragile but, unlike the last two recessions, there is still hope and growth in Liverpool. The city is in a better position than it has been for many years to weather the changes, and is much better off than other areas in the UK that didn’t do too badly in the 1980s. If the city is to survive and grow, it needs to receive more balanced coverage nationally. Commissioning more writing from rather than about the regions would go a long way towards this.

By Kenn Taylor

This article appeared in The Guardian newspaper on 11th November 2010.