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Reputation, reputation, reputation

As Jonathan Margolis does a U-Turn on his view of the “self-pity city” in a newspaper this week, Paul Du Noyer writes exclusively for Confidential on Liverpool's image - as seen by the national media

Published on February 26th 2008.


Reputation, reputation, reputation

YOU know the old song about "our Liverpool home"? We've got the "accent exceedingly rare", the cathedral to spare, and all of that stuff? Well, we've now got something else to add. We've got "reputational issues". Who says? The Financial Times says.

Standing out gets you noticed, and to be noticed is to risk attack. If that's the price of our city's individuality, I'd say it's worth paying

I love these new phrases. "Reputational issues" sounds almost prestigious. Does Norwich have them? Apart from a little light mockery by Alan Partridge, it does not. London? Manchester? No. Not really. You'd have to look a long way before you found a city with reputational issues like Liverpool's reputational issues. Twenty years ago you might have said that Belfast, or possibly Glasgow, had their own share of notoriety. But they've both come a long way since then. In the eyes of the outside world, the Financial Times says, Liverpool is struggling.

Of course we all hope our Year of Culture will transform Liverpool's reputation. But the first few weeks of 2008 were not encouraging. Bloomberg News, the globally syndicated agency, began their report on the Capital of Culture's opening ceremony with a mention of the night's shootings in Croxteth. Listing the city's cultural attractions, they ended with this immortal pay-off: "Just remember to bring your bullet-proof leg protectors."

To be fair, Bloomberg's report was not completely damning. They were baffled by Liverpool's last two years of political in-fighting, and equally baffled by Ringo's new single. (And who could blame them on either score?) But their essential angle was echoed across the media: "Liverpool year of culture gets off to a violent start,' ran the headline in the Independent on Sunday. That's human nature. Bad news jolts the brain in ways that good news doesn't. Shock is greater than awe. And every newspaper understands this.

This city carries bitter memories of media mistreatment, most infamously from The Sun. But it's hard to move on, isn't it, when you hear allegations of a TV crew trying to goad some scallies to provide juicy ASBO action on camera. And it's not only the media who take a perverse glee in negative spin. It was depressing enough to read about the burglaries from footballers' homes during away games; it was even worse to see those stories top the "Most e-mailed" chart on the BBC News website.

We all know this problem exists. And I don't think I'm exaggerating when I call it a sort of displaced racism. In firms across the country there's a habit of sending "Scouse joke" emails around. My wife, who is Irish-born and Liverpool-bred, finally snapped one day and posted her own response: "Oh, I get it. You're not allowed to call me a thick Paddy any more, so now I'm a thieving Scouser instead." I'm glad to say that a few of her London colleagues had the decency to be embarrassed.

Still, Liverpool has survived tougher challenges than this. It irritates me, because I know how cheap the taunts are. But I also know that it's not important and that the city will see off its detractors. We should also realise how many real friends we have across the world. (I've never met a musician, for example, who didn't speak highly of the Liverpool audience.) The fact is that few cities arouse any opinions, good or bad. And that's because few cities have any innate personality to speak of. People do respond to the idea of Liverpool; they sense it has a personality. And by and large they like it.

This city is different to other cities, in good ways and bad, and difference will always polarise opinions. Deep down, I think, Liverpudlians enjoy their city's "exceptionalism". We don't want to be just like Norwich. But standing out gets you noticed, and to be noticed is to risk attack. If that's the price of our city's individuality, I'd say it's worth paying. We should refute the lies that are told, but do it calmly and with confidence. Let us not seem shrill, defensive or thin-skinned.

Yes, it's a perplexing city. If you're not perplexed by Liverpool then you're probably not paying attention. It's full of life and life is messy. It continues to beguile and infuriate me. Throw your worst abuse at Liverpool and a part of me will acknowledge what you say. Nearly all the criticisms have a grain of truth. Yet no defence is too passionate. Even the most loyal of Scousers see the downside of the city and most of us, I'm sure, occasionally feel despair. I know I do. But life goes on and some things do get fixed. It's our responsibility to fix them, and our obligation to the generations after us. Because, in the end, the city out-lives us all.

*Liverpool-born Paul Du Noyer is associate editor of The Word, former editor of the NME and Q Magazine and author of the bestselling musical biography of the city, Liverpool: Wondrous Place (Virgin Books).

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28 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

A. E. ScousemanFebruary 19th 2008.

Never mind. I'm sure that last year's photographs of our Councillors and Council Officers showing us up in France by taking off their ties and sucking lager straight from the bottle like scallies and looking shifty for the camera, are still available in Liverpool Confidential's archives if you know where to click!

Frank McDoranFebruary 19th 2008.

I'm off to Specsavers right now.

AnonymousFebruary 19th 2008.

Agreed with Mr McCabe and his comments re the local media. So how come so much outrage about Ringo's non comment and yet, from the same people, so much hysterical reporting of gangster stories, shooting stories and any other depressing tale it wants to tell in big headlines to pull the city down?

Jack DanielsFebruary 19th 2008.

It continues to beguile and infuriate me.............too. Outstanding final paragraph. Required reading for anyone who cares about Liverpool and its people. If only we had some civic leadership with vision, energy and determination.

rusty spikeFebruary 19th 2008.

Some people - Mr McCabe and one or two others excepted - are seemingly forgetting that the so called 'Hatton Period' was at at time when Liverpool was under siege from a vicious Tory government led by the Mad Thatcher who was determined to bring the city to heel or better still crush it, as they did the Labour run Merseyside County Council. There may well have been faults, silly nonsense and a number of seriously flawed antics at the time undertaken by Liverpool Council but the likes of Tony Byrne and others in the council mostly had the interests of the people at heart. The Militant era was born out of necessity, a necessity for survival. As for Mister 'Atton? Merely an opportunist. But hey look at the crew in now. Silly nonsense and faults? As if. Not a whiff of corruption anywhere. But while we are at it, Joe Anderson and his mob should be ashamed of themselves. Suddenly they are in there sniping away at the Lib Dems and firing bullets at Bradley et al...where were they when it really mattered in recent years. Silent. If Mr Anderson and Co have ideas to put Liverpool back on an even keel, then let us all have the benefit of knowing, instead of his own opportunistic sorties to secure column inches with glib speeches that he doesn't even write himself. A plague on all your houses.

Sir Old Hall StreetFebruary 19th 2008.

You are not wrong there, you last two. What a shower of incompetents. No wonder the city is a laughing stock. Which spin doctor will get us out of that one THEN?

Jim McCabeFebruary 19th 2008.

Excellent piece, Paul. I endorse the point about countering unfounded criticism in the right manner, something the local media would do well to remember; the synthetic outrage manufactured around Ringo's comments on the Jonathan Ross show was puerile.

scouse690February 19th 2008.

"hey you Jimmy"...I think the Echo was right to express "indignation", or should it be "exasperation", at voting Militant Labour back in AGAIN in the '80's. Lets face the truth, Derek Hatton and co., not only got the city massively into debt, but he created the national image of us Scousers, as being lazy,good for nothing workers, who came out on strike at the drop of a hat.While he swanned around in his Roller...DEG5Y....giving back handers to all his mates, while "we" as a City suffered! And had to pay for it in the following years, both in reputation and financially. This load of w*nkers we have in now, are just as bad...the debt they are building up, the money they have wasted willy nilly, the demolition of beautiful Victorian houses to widen roads, selling off green spaces for housing....and even worse, bloody supermarkets expanding even more (Tesco's is their favourite!!). They allowed the expansion at Mather Avenue, and now local residents have a fight on at Old Swan. This council is so blinkered that they cannot see past what is proposed as "potential" new jobs. They ignore the fact that they put more and more local shops out of business (therefore redundancies, less choice, loss of community and more bankruptcies, which leads to more homes being re-possessed by the banks/mortgage companies). I feel that we, as a City, and as Scousers have a lot more to offer, (no more dwelling on the past) and a lot more to lose by putting up with what our council is getting away with now. Warren Bradley and co., are on an ego trip that we will all pay for in the Council Tax next year (2009), due to incompetence and mis-management (just look at the scrapping of The Cloud and the Tram System...which left the Liverpool Arena with no transport links!!). Yet they allowed a monstrosity of a multi story car park to be built alongside the Grand Plaza Hotel, with a big banner saying that you can reserve spaces on contract with an 0161 (Manchester) phone number!! I rest my case, for now, as I'm sure someone will have a different opinion. But it was great to get all of that off my chest!

A. E. ScousemanFebruary 19th 2008.

It is a lazy bigot who slags off Liverpool and Liverpudlians. Those ‘jokes’ about track suits were originally about Essex folk, but minimally adapted by the hard-of-thinking to insult Liverpudlians. As for the perceived reputation for crime, Chester is more dangerous and London has as many murders in a night as Liverpool has in a year.

Jim McCabeFebruary 19th 2008.

scouse690, I wasn't blind to the faults & foibles of the Hatton period. However, the context of the time was that the Militant pledged defiance of Thatcher. Trevor Jones, aka "Jones the vote", by contrast, was happy to enjoy a cigar whilst guiding Heseltine on a ferry trip along the city's waterfront in the wake of the Toxteth riots. We can argue about the Militant legacy ad infinitum. However, the political background at that time meant that there was a receptive audience for Militant's message.

Sexy RexyFebruary 19th 2008.

Warren Bradley's little helpers could get dressed up like those Christmas elves you did that time. Then at least we would all recognise them.

Jimmy CorkillFebruary 19th 2008.

It's the whole thing about Liverpool seeing itself as different, even the football chants. But you're not telling me Lord Redmond's Brookie would have been as gripping if it had been set, in say, Halifax.

R. A. MateFebruary 19th 2008.

Well said, Docky la!

evertonyFebruary 19th 2008.

scouse690, thats scarey stuff but its all true, hatton has a lot to answer for, as for the car parks and new buildings it dont make sence, they turn down what looks like a perfect sky scraper and then let them build a car park. i,m all for sky srapers i love em, but only if thier just straight, like new york, not the ones like manchester and leeds, go for it 690..

Norman PriceFebruary 19th 2008.

Maybe they can send Fireman Sam to Mipim instead.

Jim McCabeFebruary 19th 2008.

Well said, Stanley Dock. What's overlooked, due to the Sun's Hillsborough lies, is the Liverpool Echo's support for Thatcher during the 80s. Its gasping indignation as Liverpool's voters returned the Militant council during the early to mid-80s provoked hilarity from this then teenage activist.

Stanley DockFebruary 19th 2008.

In the 80's the echo was just the evening version of the Sun in its support of the evil woman and dislike of anything liverpool that didn't fit into its narrow view.20 years later it is reduced to pushing any 3rd rate talent in a sad attempt to make Liverpool the trendy place it hasn't been for 15 years at least! Culture is moved sideways whilst dull mainstream fayre is given more room than it deserves becaunse it is staffed by gormless planks whose knowledge is so limited it does our city no favours AT ALL.

Marquis de VouvrayFebruary 19th 2008.

Well said, M. du Noyer! As a proud Liverpolitan (resident by choice, not by birth), I applaud your stalwart defence of this unique, maddening city, but, egad/sacre bleu, the city does need a major purge of its 'representatives' and 'leaders'. They are doing Liverpool no end of harm with their antics. O to ditch the whole sorry crew and expropriate their salaries and 'compensation' for the good of the city. As for Viennese Balls, leave it to Harpic and the Ruritanians - they have been running them for years and know how to do them with real panache.

WappingFebruary 19th 2008.

While outsiders still view us through the prism of Lord Culture's Brukeside and Holyoaks they will have a low opinion of us. We've had a couple of decades of his constant barrel-scraping and Enfield's crass and shallow efforts as just about the only impression most people have of us. A significant section of our population now see those televised antics and the Echo's take on celebrity as validation for their own behaviour. It's all bad in medialand and we do so much of it ourselves. As for Militant, they deliberately drove the middle classes out of Liverpool but I don't know why. The demography is still hopelessly skewed a whole generation later.

TV KellyFebruary 19th 2008.

Never mind all this. All the chat round my gaff has been about poor Warren Bradley and his non-attendance at Cannes this year for the big Mipim beano. My mate Manx Terry reckons it would be difficult for him to go there, when he's having his picture taken all the time in the Post and Echo at the moment. But I reckon there are a lot of Warren Bradley helpers around, like the Father Christmas helpers who dress up like Santa so the little ones aren't disappointed when they visit the grotto. Perhaps beardy Barford is taking a picture of a man in a Warren Bradley (TM) outfit on the top of One Park West, while the real Warren is being snapped by cheery Colin Lane at the new swimming pool. Maybe Warren CAN attend Mipim, and his little band of lookalikes can keep up his punishing schedule of pre-election photo-ops on his behalf. I offer this as a solution which will appeal to everyone.

Liam Fogarty (No! Not THE Liam Fogarty, a different one)February 19th 2008.

You know, it's times like this that make me just think that perhaps we should have a mayor. Although I have no idea who that mayor could be. It would have to be someone serious (maybe a glasses-wearer), who's clever (ideally good at general knowledge quizzes) with some sort of ethnic name to signify Liverpool's status as a city of the world (Irish would be ideal, Celtic tiger economy and all that). Oh, and he should have a high local profile (maybe a media background) and be strongly in favour of a mayor for Liverpool. I think we can all agree that, if such a person came along, he would make everything better.

AliFebruary 19th 2008.

No way. The council spin machine is working brilliantly. What a shame Degsy and Mulhearn didn't have one in the days when councillors actually DID have a cohesive policy. When did you last see a negative story about the city council in the Echo. You won't. Promise.

R. A. MateFebruary 19th 2008.

I often think that the Echo ought to do what proper local papers do, stick to printing wedding photographs and the timetables of meetings for the Cubs, Scouts, Boys's Brigade, etc. instead of sensationalist rabble-rousing over footer, the Beatles, crime, etc. It hasn't been the same since it went tabloid.

TV KellyFebruary 19th 2008.

We can't run away from the fact that a lot of criticisms do contain a grain of truth. Often more than a grain, an entire silo on occasion. The trouble with us is we allowed our worst side to be the only one we presented to the world, and that's how we are now defined by outsiders. That's why Capital of Culture and regeneration projects like Liverpool One are so important. Every time we get national coverage of these events or projects, it chips away at the idea that Liverpool is just about scallies on the make. Ah, the Lord Redmond, he giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other.

CiceroFebruary 19th 2008.

Well into the 1970s correspondents to the Echo letters page often used Latin or Greek noms de plume. Of course it hasn’t been allowed for years now as it would show up the poor English of the staff!

Mike TVFebruary 19th 2008.

An excellent piece of writing, Paul. Keep up the top class work, Confidential, we love ya!

London RoadFebruary 19th 2008.

I think that's putting it in a nutshell really. Would Joe Anderson and Co like to come on here and tell us what they are going to do for Liverpool or are they just going to continue sticking the knife into Bradley and co and hoping that no one will notice that Labour in Liverpool have avbsolutely no policies at all?

AnonymousFebruary 19th 2008.

Cracking piece of writing this and very, very well said and true. I particularly liked the line about refuting the lies that have been told calmly and with confidence. Isn't that a rule for us all? There are so many idiots still out there who just don't get it.

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