In the analysis of what happened in the EU Referendum a few days ago, there have been a few articles now contrasting Hull with Hampstead — or whichever metropolitan centre that can lazily be caricatured as the realm of latte-sipping, Waitrose customers and Guardian readers.
For in journalism Hull is always the land that time forgot. Journalism does not acknowledge that Hull has its Hampstead within. It does not witness the confident enthusiasm for its culture, the overbrimming excitement for next year’s City of Culture festival. It does not recognise that Hull has its own nouveau riche, in its western suburbs and leafy avenues.
But Hull, just like anywhere else, is a town with different faces. Yes it has always had pockets of extreme deprivation, but it is also home to a successful university, a vibrant student community, to artists, playwrights, musicians, to a large middle-class, and not only the infamous impoverished working-class beloved by social commentators.
Perhaps in its collective imagination Hull remains eternally bitter about the decimation of its fishing industry — so frequently attributed to the EU’s common fisheries policy — and its consequences. Perhaps pockets of deprivation and disaffection — despite significant investment in the city in recent times — combined with the influx of European labour and wider refugee populations is a too potent a brew to handle: a suddenly fertile ground for the politics of disenfranchisement. Perhaps.
But in my view these visions of Hull and Hampstead are but hopeless caricatures. Remain were not all Waitrose customers buying organic apples and the Observer. They were students, young parents, professionals, scientists, academics, pensioners. Yes, even the Aldi Essentials brigade in their clapped-out Ford Fusions.
All of this analysis of the apparent divide between the haves and have-nots — between Hampstead and Hull — ignore the elephant in the room. We have a large and very vocal media which for a very long time has been projecting anti-immigrant narratives, hostility to refugees and hatred of particular minorities. In the past weeks the Leave campaign affirmed, legitimised and capitalised on these narratives.
Those of us who work in apparently enlightened university towns are all too aware of the grumbling in the office. Of educated folk in well-paid positions demanding that the doors be closed on refugees to prevent rape, terrorism, crime and benefit fraud. It’s their culture, you see. Even in Hampstead such feelings are rife. Even amidst the organic vegetable display in Waitrose.
In my view the agitation of the past weeks culminating in Friday’s referendum result had little to do with the supposed chasm between Hull and Hampstead. It was a media a coup. The natural consequence of a narrative which has been problematising and scapegoating outsiders for years.