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Are the Midlands in the North, the South, or neither?

New research suggests 25% of English adults think the Midlands are in the North. And Midlanders aren’t happy…

Tomasz Frymorgen
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Christmas long gone, and that means we can all stop pretending to be nice to one another and get back to what we do best.

Like having flame wars over where the North/South divide lies.

Figures released earlier in January by pollster YouGov suggest that 25% of English adults believe the Midlands to be a part of the North. 

The findings are based on a survey of just under 8,000 adults from across England. Participants were shown a map with all nine English regions such as the South West or the East of England marked out but unlabelled. They were then asked to identify whether each region was part of the North of the country, the South, or neither. 

The research found that 26% of all those questioned thought the East Midlands were part of the North, while the figure for the West Midlands was 24%.

And even more interesting was that 25% of those actually from the East Mids identified their own region as being part of the North. Sixteen percent of those from the West Mids did the same for their region.

In fact, the only part of the country where people were more likely to identify the Midlands as part of the South rather than part of the North were those from the North East of England. 

The new figures have reopened one the UK’s favourite feuds: the never-ending debate over where the South starts and the North ends – or vice versa. 

This time, Midlanders are unhappy that the YouGov poll didn’t include a 'Midlands' option alongside 'North' or 'South'. The alternative option was 'neither'.  

But others identify quite strongly with the findings. 

And unsurprisingly, Twitter users have jumped on the new research to reinforce their own geographical claims.

This latest chapter in the debate comes hot on the heels of the previous blow up of the North, South AND Midlands debate.

Back in November a new exhibition opened at London’s Somerset House Gallery called The North: Fashioning Identity.

The show explores representations of Northerners and the North of England in photography, fashion and art. But after it got a shout out on the BBC’s Breakfast Show the nation - and social media – erupted with debate on where the North actually begins.

Some offered answers.

Now as a first attempt, this might not be so bad.

Interestingly, Sam's line doesn’t run horizontally. His map suggests a corner of Wales is in the North and that Sheffield is in the South.

'Sartorial Thug' offered an alternative demarcation. While also displaying advanced rhetorical skills.

Others argued linguistic reference points were more valid.

As vehemently as tweeters may disagree, there probably isn’t a hard and fast geographical border. The M1 can point to "The North" when you're at the Watford Gap and it can still say the same thing when you're past Sheffield.

In fact, some suggested geography has nothing to do with it.

The debate then moved on to long-standing cultural differences, like lager versus ale or Oasis versus Blur.

Underlying the cultural and geographic divide is the gap in economic growth between the North and the South, which dates back to the 19th century and has progressively widened since the 1970s.

The government has pledged hundreds of millions of pounds into a 'Northern Powerhouse' plan to boost transport and economic links between Northern cities. However, there is still a major disparity in infrastructure spending that favours the South.

“While always shifting and slippery, the North/South divide remains an important explanatory concept in terms of economic geography, while also having longstanding cultural connotations,” says Dr Nick Clare, Assistant Professor in Economic Geography at the University of Nottingham.

“Its impacts are clear, with the idea of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ in a permanent state of stagnation, while the South East of the UK continues to grow economically.”

No doubt it’s only a matter of time until the North-Midlands-South debate erupts again.

This article was first published on 15 November 2017.