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Culture Ranking (Cranking) in Merseyside

To an American, a crank is someone in a foul-mood; to a Brit, it is an eccentric individual or one behaving in a manner most odd, and to a Scouser, she’s a bunny-boiler.

It is almost impossible to research Merseyside without getting a ton of facts and stats on Liverpool. It seems to be presented as being one and the same place: a sort of reductivist “London is England” type of mentality. For the record, London is London, the rest of England is the presumed enigma. Hence, I apologise in advance for any and all the clangers that I might drop.

The Liverpudlian accent, otherwise referred to as Scouse after a Norwegian Stew, was nominated as Britain’s most untrustworthy accent in 2012. By 2020 though, it had climbed up to second-worst place, losing the mantle to Birmingham. Quite what occurred to cause this shift is anyone’s guess but this is little wonder given I can’t persuade Google to distinguish between a city and a county.

After Scottish, Scouse is the most identifiable dialect across the United Kingdom. That is quite an accomplishment for a nation of just over 90,000 square miles containing forty-plus official manners of speaking. It also works out that there is about one accent for every county. However, I should caveat this by saying that to a Merseysider’s ear, one can readily distinguish if one is a resident of St Helens, the Widnes, Southport or The Wirral. What is a known phenomena, however, is that accent bias exists and it usually leads to unequal access to employment opportunities, housing and education. This is particularly notable when one enunciates using “working-class” or “ethnic” rhetoric and pronunciation.

I’d argue that outside of London, Liverpool dominates the culture wars: The Grand National, The Beatles, “Our Cilla” (“the most despised national treasure” according to British Airways Cabin Crew). One could also mention the football rivalries between the red team (Liverpool) and the blue team (Everton) that exist even within families. Liverpool also boasts the highest number of museums absent London, with over 2,400 listed buildings: the second-most populated according to the Liverpool Echo, albeit this is much refuted by the geography teacher that is Google.

Alas, these were largely constructed and financed during its maritime “heyday”. The Mersey estuary was once the site for 80% of Britain’s slave-based economic activity, which itself comprised 40% of the world’s. The mass-exploitation of African nationals drove an employment boom within the shipping industry, and established Liverpool as Britain’s second most important city. Consequently, Liverpool boasts the oldest and longest established black community within the UK, and combined with the influx of Welsh and Irish communities seeking work in the docks, this era ostensibly rearranged the local dialect giving Merseyside its distinctive accent.

The 1970s and 1980s saw global economic restructuring, with Liverpool becoming the microcosm typifying England’s woes: extortionate levels of unemployment, urban decay, increasing social unrest, escalating crime rates, increasing distrust of authorities as well as abject racism.

None in Merseyside suffered more than the largely segregated black inhabitants of Toxteth. Triggered by the police pulling over a black motorist for “loitering with intent to commit an arrestable offence”, which sounds awfully quite a bit like being hauled off for thinking, pondering or daydreaming.

Nearby, sensing the treatment of his friend’s treatment being unfair, Leroy Cooper, remonstrated with police, and that was him too carted away. It led to the uprising and six weeks later, one man was dead, having been run over by a police Range Rover; eight-hundred policemen were injured; five-hundred and forty-two people were under arrest; and seventy buildings were destroyed, with approximately £11 million of damage.

Margaret Simey, Merseyside County Councillor and Chairman of the Police Authority for the region remarked of the confrontation, “They would be apathetic fools…if they didn’t protest.” From then onwards, she was parodied as Liverpool’s greatest crank by the national media of all echelons.

Michael Heseltine, then the Environment Secretary, campaigned vociferously for Liverpool’s rejuvenation and resurrection to Britain’s first woman Prime Minister and much maligned crank, Margaret Thatcher. In the other ear was her Chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Howe, who implored her not to commit scarce resources to futile causes. Instead he suggested the manufacturing regions, known for its ardent Labour voters, to be managed through to decline. He cited Merseyside as being “the hardest nut to crack” and was forceful in his belief the capital should give up on it.

Thatcher sided with Heseltine and from then on Liverpudlians were rebranded into the nation’s most natural comedians, with an easy-going charm, quick wit, with true depth and breadth of culture. The enduring legacy for locals was the lambooning by Harry Enfield in The Scousers. If one really wants to offend someone from Merseyside say, “Calm Down” to them. Twice, and preferably in quick succession: after all, the television series was only cancelled thirty years ago!

And if that doesn’t work, then there’s always the hubcap snark. Apparently, as recently as 2006, a Londoner asked an online forum if it was true that his new Mercedes would end up on bricks if he were to travel to Stockport from his hometown.

Once upon a time, Liverpool was seen as the capital of crime. Today, it comes in tenth-place in a survey for the “top-ten cities” for car vandalism. Liverpudlian residents believe their roads to be the safest in the UK by comparison to all other major cities. I couldn’t tell you because I never went there. London, incidentally, suffers with the most car-crime.

So I left Merseyside, hubcaps and all, with just one burning question.

I enquired of Google if I could buy The Sun, Britain’s premier paper-based newspaper, in Merseyside. From the Liverpool Echo, I can only assert that Sainsbury’s in Liverpool stock it under the counter if you ask, I presume, nicely. Therefore, I am none the wiser how anyone calculates the estimated loss of income from Liverpool-but-possibly-the-region’s boycott amounts to circa £15 million per month for Rupert Mudoch’s News Corporation.

What I have learnt, though, is that the campaign to rid all of Merseyside of The Sun began on the 19th April, 1989 and it remains as vehement as ever. Following the overfilling and subsequent crushing of the penned-in football supporters, The Sun’s editor’s published the headline “The Truth” informing the mourning nation that Liverpool fans were overwhelmingly responsible for the tragedy. What should have otherwise been a typical premiership football game saw seven women and girls, along with ninety men and boys, perish unnecessarily thanks to poor policing. Twenty-three years later, the former editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, admits that the headline should have been “The Lies”.

Margaret Aspinall, the figurehead of the families’ fight for justice, was forced to accept £1,200 pounds as compensation for the death of her eighteen-year old son. Along with the other relatives of the victims, they used it to pay the fees necessary to hold the first inquest. Naturally, all the institutions under investigation (The Police, The Ambulance Service, The Council) and their lawyers were funded by the tax-payer. Three inquiries came and went, as well as a third of a century, before the fans were exonerated. Comprehensibly exonerated. They were, to quote the justice system, “unlawfully killed”.

“Let’s be honest about this - people were against us. We had the media against us, as well as the establishment. Everything was against us. The only people that weren’t against us was our own city. That’s why I am so grateful to my city and so proud of my city. They always believed in us.” (Margaret Aspinall, 2016)

So the only thing I know as a fact is that Merseyside only has one rude-sounding place: Crank. I cast no aspirations on its inhabitants and can only leave full admiration for their tenacity.

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