Ten days ago BBC QuestionTime came from Wales. Predictably, there were four Welsh panellists and a London journalist. When it comes from Scotland there will be a solidly Scottish panel.
When Question Time came from Gateshead in June, the panellists were the MPs for West Suffolk, the Rhonnda, Clacton, Ochil and South Perthshire and a London journalist. Not a northern voice among them.
So why the difference? Why does the BBC consistently ignore our northern identity? When did you last see a northern MP on the panel?
If they slip in a comedian or showbiz personality, as they did with Charlotte Church in Wales, it will never be our own Sarah Millican. We are only fit to sit in the audience, never on the stage. Why do they do it? Because they can, because we will let them get away with it and so will our elected representatives.
If Wales or Scotland were snubbed in this way there would be outrage in the valleys and claymores in the glens. We put up with it because, deep down, we don’t feel we deserve better.
A while ago, at a London event, I sat next to a woman, a public figure, who, when her husband was diagnosed with cancer, flew him to New York in search of the best treatment. She arrived there only to be told that the very best treatment for that cancer was to be found in Newcastle upon Tyne.
“Why didn’t I know that?” she asked.
Our universities are thronged with students from outside the EU, who have come here because of the excellence of our education. Our skilled workers can vie with the best in the world. Ask Nissan.
Do we trumpet our prowess? No. The average northerner does not see their origin as a plus point, rather as a disadvantage.
The first fan letter I received for my first novel came from a fellow Sunderlander. It read “I liked the book. It’s the first time I’ve seen Sunderland described as anything other than a dump.”
The North will never flourish unless it speaks up for itself and demands the recognition it deserves. We have the history, we have the skills, we have the grit – we just don’t have self-belief. Until we get it, until we instil into our children the conviction that being born here or choosing to come here is hugely advantageous, we will continue to be treated like the second-class citizens the BBC think we are.