Why the North-South divide in England is a reflection of a fractured society
The North-South divide in England is a largely contested debate that spans generations.
Whilst some will contest the geographical limitations of the divide, it is typically considered that Northern England consists of the North East, the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, whilst Southern England contains everything below the Midlands. Others consider the Watford Gap to be the dividing line.
Arguably, the divide was initiated by the large wealth divide and the significantly different social and economic conditions between the North and South. Whilst the North is heavily dependent of the public sector and has lower wages, employment and house prices on average, the South is private sector dominant and has higher incomes, employment and house prices. The North is also generally perceived to be Labour supportive, whilst the South is generally Conservative.
I have always been aware of the North-South dichotomy that exists in England and the economic and socio-political differences that govern this divide. However, the North-South debate is not merely a geographical conversation which concerns a county divided on economic and social grounds; it was when I began university that I witnessed how the North-South divide is much more than a line, but has been projected into how we view others depending on where they come from. The fissures of the North-South divide spill into how Northerns and Southerns perceive one another.
Whilst I was excited by the prospect of living in the South for the first time in my life, I was immediately let down by how my Northern accent was received. On the second day of living in halls as I began my journey at University College London last year, my flat mate confessed she believed all people from the North were dirty and uneducated, but that I had proved her wrong. The latter statement didn’t make me feel any better - it made me angrier. Never before had I been more conscious of the North-South divide, and where I fit into it.
A few months later, a lecturer asked me to read out a section of William Wordsworth’s ‘The Prelude’. Wordsworth was a Northerner, and his poetic masterpiece largely features his experiences in the Lake District. Having never seen this lecturer ask any particular member of the group to read a section of the text before now, I asked ‘Are you asking me to read it because I have a Northern accent?’ He laughed, and jokingly promised that wasn’t the case, despite the smirk on his face suggesting otherwise. This subsequently transformed into a discussion on how Wordsworth would have pronounced certain words in his Northern accent, which received sniggers and laughter across the room. This discussion may have been a harmless conversation of Wordsworth's text that did not intend to offend or provoke, yet I was made to feel isolated from everyone else in the seminar room and felt instantly conscious that my accent was different to those of my peers.
This isn’t just something I have noticed in my own experience. Watching YouTuber Luke Birch’s ‘England: North vs South (WHO IS SUPERIOR)’ video, he claims that those from the North are seen as overfriendly, poor, ‘kretins’ and ‘dumb as s**t’, whilst the South are stereotyped as posh, rich, Royal and Tories. Even the title gives off the impression that living at one end of the country makes you georgraphically superior to those who live on the other end. The fact that these debates encompass the people of England concerns me, as we allow our perceptions to be governed by pre-formed stereotypes, rather than forming our own opinions of people irrespective of geography.
These instances capture the sentiment of divide England suffers. It is true that the North’s economic, political, social and geographic qualities sets it apart from the South, but why is this projected onto the people who live in the respective areas? My flatmate’s claim that I had proved the Northern sterotype was flawed shows how such stereotypes are based on false, often misinformed perceptions that we make without actually meeting anyone from the opposite end of the country. Whilst there maybe ‘dirty’ and ‘uneducated’ people in the North, this isn’t reflective of the entirety of the Northern population. In the same way, there may be arrogant and unfriendly people in the South, but not every Southerner you come across will boast these qualities either. The rivalry and competition between Northerners and Southerners taints the fact that we all live on one island. Our identity is not shaped by where we come from. For such a small country, we have developed such a bitterness towards each other that forces us to question whether we deserve to be known as a ’United Kingdom’.
All experiences and opinions discussed in this article are my own