Beatrix Campbell: People of Norfolk: say Aha-ha-ha!

Share
Related Topics

There's none so pious as city councillors in search of an identity and corporate voices in search of investment. They can't take a joke. Together they form a dour coalition against the culture crimes of wit, surprise and the amiable pleasures of self-abasement.

Any city would be proud of Alan Partridge, the retro DJ who has done much for Norwich, perhaps as much as Saint Delia. Any Londoner should surely enjoy the endorsement of the capital's woes that is currently central to Manchester's self-promotion. When the CBI met in Manchester a few days ago they were ferried by taxis adorned with "Capital punishment". "It's grim down south" is the slogan of the North-west Development Agency.

But politicians and business leaders (often the same thing) have taken offence. Charles Joyce, a Norfolk county councillor, has tabled a motion lamenting the Partridge effect on the city's reputation. Andy Pearmain, a city councillor, has blamed it for Norwich's failure to win City of Culture 2008 status.

Partridge is Steve Coogan's alter ego, the pre-dawn DJ with the fatty back and fungoid feet, a talent for sexism and a sense of humour to rival those of Melanie Phillips or Gordon Brown. His resonance is nothing to do with Norwich and everything to do with dismal regional radio stations and ambitious men disappointed with their wives, secretaries, cars, hair, business (but redeemed by their love of Abba). Norwich, by contrast, has a reputation as an emblematic English city, rather white, almost cosmopolitan, a city that welcomed refugees from South American dictatorships, located not far from a marvellous coastline, with a thriving and progressive civic culture.

After acquiring a university its middle-class gained critical mass, and since the Sixties its intelligentsia and radical activist networks have brought energy and imagination to its local politics. For many years its best-known local politician was the eminent social historian Patricia Hollis. Norwich is an easy, active city that expresses well the revival of urbanism in England. Young fans of both the comedian and the city reckon, "It's great to hear something local – otherwise who'd have heard of Norwich?"

Alison King, leader of Norfolk county council, has invited Coogan to the city. Her colleague Cllr Celia Cameron says: "There's no problem. We could even do an Alan Partridge tourist trail featuring his favourite garage." Residents like both the place and Partridge. But their pleasure has been traduced by Messrs Joyce and Pearmain whose civic evangelism is directed at inward investment. Their message may be unheeded, nay witless, but they speak into a larger phenomenon.

London's mayor, hitherto so clever at communication, seems to have fallen for the lore and language of business. Manchester is not the new mecca, complained Ken Livingstone. The campaign was "a shocking abuse of their public funding," complained the London Development Agency chief executive, Michael Ward. But Manchester is a liveable city. Like several conurbations north of Watford, it no longer envies the big smoke. London is fabulous but hard work. Its interests cannot be defended at the expense of lesser powers in the provinces.

The mayor should have celebrated Manchester's cheek instead of complaining about it. The revival of this great northern city is testament both to its inventive popular cultures and to progressive civic renewal. London has long lacked the rapport between politics and popular culture that has supported Manchester's vigour.

London's defensive pieties expose the inter-city rivalries created by the competition culture. Michael Heseltine institutionalised it in the 1980s when he created City Challenge, forcing poor neighbourhoods to vie for shrinking regeneration funds. Since then competitions to sponsor sports and culture extravaganzas have become a capricious and sometimes cruel way to regenerate our cities. Pimping for business comes first.

When the Mayor of London talks like this then we know that our political language has lost its soul, as well as its wit. Forget the intelligent chidings of political correctness; political idiom has become the prisoner of corporate censorship.

Joan Smith returns next week

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executives - B2B

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Genius Ltd continue...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executives - B2B

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Genius Ltd continue...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you have the right attitude,...

Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: how come Ed Miliband’s tuition fee ‘cut’ is so popular, then?

John Rentoul
Carrie's son Jack on holiday in the Carribean  

As a parent of a child with autism, this is what I want you to know about my family

Carrie Cariello
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn