The Daily Mail is right... Bristol is a 'cacophony of woke'

Unless a statue of a slave trader has ended up in the docks or there’s a riot, they normally leave Bristol well alone, but it appears the Daily Mail have noticed Bristol has elected its first Green Party MP - and it’s fair to say they are not very happy about it.

And if the opinion piece in the Mail wasn’t outraged enough, the comments section of the Mail Online were apoplectic with fury in response to Christopher Stevens article, catchily headlined ‘The new Brighton? No… my beloved Bristol (or should I say Green-land?) is even more bonkers’.

It’s certainly done what it intended to do - reinforced the image readers of the Daily Mail already had of Bristol as some kind of seventh chamber of hell, while at the same time triggering Bristol’s coffee shop bloggers to clutch their beards in horror and leap to the defence. And, you’ll dryly note, it's prompted a reaction here, with this weary riposte too. Everyone’s a winner.

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But what exactly did Christopher Stevens say? And who is he anyway? Let’s start with that clumsy, almost unreadable, headline. The ‘Green-land’ comes from the fact our Christopher is talking about living in Redland, which went from being a place with a Labour council and MP to now a Green council and MP. You can see what he did there? Good, it doesn’t get much better.

Comparing Bristol with Brighton is a thing too - Bristol now joins Brighton as a city with a Green MP, and there are similarities, but in my experience the people who say Bristol and Brighton are somehow linked are the people from London who want to escape Hackney or Shoreditch, and either follow some of their friends and end up in Brighton, or follow other friends and end up in Greenbank or Southville.

They also both begin with B, of course.

Christopher’s been triggered by the election of Carla Denyer as his local MP, it appears, and soon gets into his stride. He lives in an affluent bit of Redland where ‘more than half the front gardens have been paved over to provide parking for the fleets of Audis, BMWs and Mercedes’, but voting Green can easily be explained by the nearby student bedsits where, and brace yourself now… ‘you’ll encounter a cacophony of woke’.

At this point, as soon as someone uses the phrase 'cacophony of woke', it would normally disqualify any opinion they had on anything other than football and pizza for the rest of eternity, but let's indulge him because you never know, everyone else has previously used the word 'woke' just to describe something they don't agree, but a cacophony of woke is grammatically intriguing and maybe just this once, it's worth pursuing, because he might he might be on to something this time. What does a 'cacophony of woke' mean, Christopher?

“Peace signs and rainbow banners flutter beside posters condemning 'Zionism' and proclaiming 'Silence is Violence',” he writes. “Every public park reeks of extra-strength 'skunk' weed – a smell like compost dipped in syrup. QR codes plastered on lampposts advertise sites that deliver drugs to the door just like fast-food outlets. Analysis of waste water shows a higher concentration of cocaine than in Amsterdam.”

PC Ben Spence and Sergeant Chris Green in the 'Crack Alley' episode of BBC series Drugsland, broadcast in November 2017
PC Ben Spence and Sergeant Chris Green in the 'Crack Alley' episode of BBC series Drugsland, broadcast in November 2017 -Credit:BBC

Okay, let’s leave for a minute the interesting hypothesis that the people of Bristol Central voted Green because they are all on drugs, and go back to the ‘cacophony of woke’. The word has become so over-used as to be utterly meaningless and, I hate to break it to you, it isn’t the zinger Daily Mail readers (and writers) like to think it is.

As explained, it’s just their own internal codeword for ‘things I don’t agree with’, and can mean anything now from reducing a speed limit outside a school to - and the Mail itself actually did this over the same weekend - calling the Coastguard 'woke' because they asked people on a beach in Cornwall to stop digging massive holes in the sand, because that can be dangerous and people have died when the walls of the hole collapse.

So the ‘cacophony of woke’ is not only hilariously lazy, but also utterly meaningless. No-one, apart from people who read or write the Daily Mail or present or watch GB News, uses the word ‘woke’ now unless it’s a joke. The crazy thing about ‘woke’ is that no-one who people say are 'woke' ever really used it in the first place themselves anyway.

Alister Flowers volunteers for The Bristol Cannabis club which advocates for regulated access for all adults who wish to grow or consume cannabis. -Credit:Bristol Live
Alister Flowers volunteers for The Bristol Cannabis club which advocates for regulated access for all adults who wish to grow or consume cannabis. -Credit:Bristol Live

But back to Christopher again now, as he raises his fist like the grandfather in The Simpsons and continues to shake it at that cloud of woke weed smoke. “And in 2020, following the toppling of a statue of the city's transatlantic slave trader Edward Colston, rioters intent on confrontations with police repeatedly invaded the city centre,” he writes.

That’s the kind of factual inaccuracy you’d expect of the Daily Mail’s - checks notes - TV reviewer. The Colston Statue was toppled in June 2020 and the riots over the Police Crime and Courts Act happened in the spring of 2021. They weren’t really linked at all - apart from the suspicion that the Government and police, embarrassed by the freedom with which the slaver’s statue was rolled into the harbour, were getting some kind of revenge, using the bottom edge of their riot shields as weapons on the heads of sitting protesters.

“Today, political commentators are calling Bristol 'the new Brighton',” continues Christopher, despite the fact no-one is.

“But this city has a darker history of violence and civil unrest that dates back far beyond the urban riots in the less-well-off districts of St Paul's and Southmead during the early 1980s,” he continues. ‘Urban’ is Daily Mail code for black, in case you missed it.

Christopher mentions the 1831 Queen Square riot, but missed the Stokes Croft riot of 2011, the Hartcliffe riots of 1992 as well, and the 1998 Knowle West riots - but that was a good one for the Daily Mail, because it was sparked by a fervour stirred up by the Mail and The Sun that a notorious paedophile was being held in the local police station. Some riots are better than other riots for the Daily Mail.

So yes, Bristol has a long history of protests and riots, but then again, so does Dorchester. Or Trowbridge, Manchester and Swansea.

Anyway, what’s really prompting that fist to shake at that cloud soon becomes clear - he’s getting old and grumpy. Modern life is, let us not forget, rubbish.

The giveaway is here: “When my wife and I bought our first flat here, in what was then the constituency of Bristol West, our MP was Conservative Cabinet minister William Waldegrave” - that’s William Waldegrave, a man whose political career ended 27 years ago.

He then continues to outline just how cacophonously woke the area is, listing all those statistical outliers, including it being the most 'Remain-leaning', the most 'in favour of immigration', and so on. He leaves out that it’s demographically one of the youngest constituencies in the country, but accuracy isn’t a strongpoint. All of the data points and the Green-ness he attributed to the post-boundary change Bristol Central now, when in fact the data showing all that was scraped when it was still Bristol West.

Protesters face up to riot police in the Haymarket, Bristol
Protesters face up to riot police in the Haymarket, Bristol

Now really into his stride - that stride being uncannily similar to the road rage man in that viral video chasing a cyclist before face planting off the kerb - Our Christopher fires off all the stuff that has happened in Bristol that can be included in a cacophony of woke: The ‘cycling city’, the ‘European Green Capital’, the ‘carbon neutral city’, and finally the Clean Air Zone, but neglects to mention it was a Clean Air Zone demanded under threat of legal action by Boris Johnson's Conservative Government, and implemented reluctantly by a Labour Mayor.

And finally, we reach our crescendo like Basil Fawlty thrashing his broken down car with the branch of a tree: “All this has triggered a chaotic free-for-all on Bristol pavements, as pedestrians have to step over increasing numbers of idle e-bikes and dodge the cyclists who prefer to zigzag between them rather than use allotted lanes. Bicycles, boundary changes, Gaza and Black Lives Matter – the Green Party is on the march.”

Here’s the rub, Christopher Stevens is absolutely right with a lot of what he says, this description of Bristol is one that everyone will recognise, albeit perhaps without the same emphasis or opinion. But at the same time, he's so desperately, hilariously wrong.

One accusation often fairly levelled at Bristol, or at least the Bristol of protest marches, peace camps and organic coffee shops, is that it exists in some kind of bubble - those things that exercise people in Redland or Gloucester Road are a privileged world away from the regular challenges of life in Keynsham, Coleford, Chippenham or, indeed, Cadbury Heath, Southmead or Withywood.

And what’s most hilarious about Christopher Stevens' rant is that he’s fallen into that bubble trap too, attributing the stuff about modern life he doesn’t like to Bristol, when in actual fact, it’s everywhere.

A total of 57 towns and cities have e-bike and scooter hire schemes. Are Clacton, Corby or Scunthorpe - some of the most ‘Brexity’ places in the country - wokely cacophonous for having e-scooters and e-bikes strewn across their pavements?

TIER e-scooters lined up by the firm in The Centre
A sign warning of the Clean Air Zone in Southville, Bristol -Credit:Bristol Live

The number of cities with Clean Air Zones is rising steadily too. Is Portsmouth or Gateshead a ‘cacophony of woke’ because it has a CAZ?

Go to any park across the country at twilight, anywhere from a Cotswold village to a commuter town in Surrey, and there’ll be the unmistakable cloud of weed smoke from the local youth for him to shake his fist at. Drug dealers use QR codes on lampposts in Redditch as well as Redland.

They endlessly complain about people riding bikes on the pavement in Cobham just as much as he does in Cotham.

But perhaps his worst offence is the mistake coincidentally also made by the very people he’s lambasting - that Bristol is Redland and Stokes Croft.

TIER e-scooters lined up by the firm in The Centre -Credit:Bristol Live
TIER e-scooters lined up by the firm in The Centre -Credit:Bristol Live

It’s not. That’s one part of Bristol. Bristol is also Westbury-on-Trym and Stoke Bishop, where I have a feeling Christopher would feel more at home. It’s also Withywood and Barton Hill, Lawrence Weston and Stockwood.

Bristol is a complex, diverse, unequal, fascinating, infuriating, tribal, corrupt, friendly, awkward city that is both unique and, at the same time, just like everywhere else.

Yes, Bristol Central is statistically an outlier. Yes, it’s not a huge surprise a Green MP has been elected here. Yes, it’s a cacophony of woke, and yes, 40 years ago the Mail and The Sun would’ve called that ‘the loony left’, and 20 years ago they would’ve sneeringly called it ‘politically correct’. (It’s just people you don’t agree with, Christopher. It’s okay.)

Finally, I can tell you exactly what’s happened here. The Daily Mail’s news editor conference has seen that Bristol has a Green MP, and that requires a hit job. You’ll note that there hasn’t been a similar rant on the market towns of Herefordshire or the rural area of Norfolk, where Green Party MPs were also elected last week.

General Election 2024 from Bristol Central count Friday 5 July 2024, at Oasis Academy Brislington.    Carla Denyer wins Bristol Central.
Aerial view of Bristol including the tower blocks in Barton Hill -Credit:James Beck/BristolLive

But in the world of the Daily Mail, Bristol is Colston and riots and Drugsland and soap-dodging hippies and Black Lives Matter and a cacophony of woke - a city and a brand that has managed to distil everything the Daily Mail knows its readers hate about the modern world, so when a Green MP was elected in Bristol, someone at the Daily Mail said someone needed to do something, anything, about it all.

But who could write such a thing? No Daily Mail first-person opinion piece writer worth their salt knows anything about Bristol, they are all women of a certain age endlessly churning out diatribes about their exes after a liquid lunch in south west London. Wait a minute, doesn’t that TV reviewer still live in Bristol? He’ll do. Job done.