Nigel Hastilow: No-one likes Wolverhampton? Sounds like fake news
A new popularity survey places Wolverhampton 56th out of 57 cities in the UK. Only Bradford is worse, allegedly. But is this just more fake news?
One headline says: ‘Everyone hates the Midlands.’ It’s not just Wolverhampton but the whole region we live in - according to a polling organisation, everyone hates us.
Or not us, exactly, just the places where we live and work.
It might even be that some of us were among the 42,000 people supposedly ranking Britain’s counties and cities in order of popularity.
That could, perhaps, explain why the supposed county of the West Midlands is down in 44th place out of 47 (the least popular, apparently, being the inoffensive county of Bedfordshire).
It’s not surprising the country of West Midlands is so lowly considering it is a made-up area which doesn’t actually exist.
Even our shire counties are, supposedly, not regarded highly. Shropshire does best, in at 13, while Warwickshire is 18th, Herefordshire 25th, Worcestershire 26th and Staffordshire 33rd.
It’s understandable the most popular counties are holiday destinations: Dorset, Devon and Cornwall fill the top three slots.
When it comes to cities, the pollsters give the highest rankings to places with castles, cathedrals and ancient history. Top of the lot is York, followed by Bath, Edinburgh, Chester, Durham and Salisbury.
Again, no shocks here. They are all delightful places to visit for a day out or a weekend break (though last time I went to Bath it took two hours to get out escape because the traffic was at a standstill).
When you go further down the list, though, the results are dodgy, to say the least. Stoke-on-Trent is at number 16, for instance, prompting the ‘Norwich Evening News’ to demand: ‘How can Stoke be rated a nicer city than Norwich?’ The East Anglian city, despite its cathedral, is at 24.
Outrage at lowly rankings is a common theme across the country. Dundee (at 44) is Scotland’s lowliest city prompting fury from the tourist industry.
So Wolverhampton, rated 56 out of 57 chosen cities in Britain, is in good company when it comes to rising to the bait.
Of course we are going to defend our own - that’s what the polling organisation intended from the outset.
What better way to publicise your sad existence than to announce the results of a fatuous poll which is bound to win headlines right across the country?
It’s easy PR for the company. They know every newspaper, radio station and TV channel will report on the local findings.
And, in the case of places like Wolverhampton or Dundee, not to mention Norwich and Coventry, they will cause enough controversy to maintain the pollsters’ profile.
It’s all a game. The people of Wolverhampton, like those in Birmingham (47th) or even Lichfield (38th) react with understandable outrage and every time we do the pollsters get more publicity.
The question has to be how did these people come up with these bizarre lists in the first place. Did they really sit down 42,000 people and ask them to rate cities from Truro to Aberdeen in order of preference?
Let’s also bear in mind market research organisations are unreliable at the best of times - few of them got the results right for the last General Election or the Brexit referendum, after all.
Yet we still end up playing into their hands simply by reacting to their provocation or, in the case of the ‘winners’, by delighting in the supposed accolade of popularity.
I asked the pollsters if they could tell me how the survey was conducted, what were the questions and the options available to respondents?
I also wanted to know who commissioned the survey and why because sometimes a poll (miraculously) gives the answer the paymaster wanted.
In this case, the answer was: ‘This particular survey isn’t done like one of our traditional ones where we ask one off questions to a particular group of people.
‘For this, we used YouGov Profiles, which is a tool that holds data collected over months and years where panellists are providing their opinions on a variety of subjects.
‘Panellists can offer opinions on cities or counties, and then it’s a simple like/don't like/neutral answer.
‘We do lots of internal things like this for marketing purposes so in this case it hasn't been commissioned by anyone.’
In other words, there is no quasi-scientific basis for these results at all. What happens is some people - by no means 42,000 of them - can click a smile, a frown or some neutral expression when they see a picture of some city or county.
These clicks are then collated into league tables. So if the pollsters had more people from Wolverhampton on their panel, its rating would rise. It’s as simple as that.
It doesn’t matter that fatuous surveys like this trash reputations and make it a little more difficult to promote a city’s, or a county’s, or a region’s economy.
We shouldn’t get outraged or defensive. What this survey peddles is ‘fake news’ or, in the words of Boris Johnson, ‘an inverted pyramid of piffle’.