I don’t wanna go to Hartlepool…


In my week Thursday morning means The Cornishman, and Thursday night means “Question Time”. There’s plenty not to like about the programme, apart from being aired so late at night that it’s easy to retreat from political gibberish into a peaceful sleep. The idea that only politicians have interesting views or that if you have one politician you have to have the whole spectrum of them stifles good argument, though you can imagine the online storm that would fall on the BBC if they didn’t show due ‘balance’. But it’s worth watching just to listen to the audience’s contributions and even the tone of their applause, one of the few ways of gauging what ordinary people are really thinking.

What they’re thinking in Hartlepool kept me up half the night.

Hartlepool has certainly had a tough century of it, beginning when they were heavily shelled by the German Fleet at the beginning of WW1. As a key manufacturing town it took a beating after WWII, losing first its ship-building industry and then, by degrees, its main employer British Steel, losing an estimated 10,000 jobs in all. No town can take such blows with a smile on its face, and when it came to the EU Referendum it expressed its anger and frustration with a Leave vote of nearly 70%. The sense of being forgotten by those in power was one reason, but almost as decisive was the bitter resentment felt when any of the few jobs available were taken by incoming EU immigrants.

Objections to their attitudes from the soft South are regarded as patronising, so even though Cornwall is an equally poor area for employment I won’t go there. What was disturbing was the impression that having won the battle of the referendum Hartlepool seemed to think they’d won the war of public opinion. In the face of speaker after speaker was the fierce self-confidence of a victorious team. What they’d won was a promise to re-align European political and trading arrangements, but what they thought they’d won was something else.

Despite the clear harm that a sudden dislocation from the EU would do to Britain’s economy, they wanted to get right on with it. Any argument for a careful, timely separation was met with derision – “Which bit of democracy don’t you understand?” They, the people, had spoken and they wanted their political servants to carry out their wishes straight away (possibly thinking that no imaginable downturn could make them any worse off).

As for immigrants the hostility on display was naked and ugly. No immigrant, or even well-settled resident of any kind of foreign extraction could ignore the unspoken subtext of Northern Brexit. Get back home. Now. This means you.

There were tolerant voices in the crowd, there was some applause for common sense and thoughtful moderation, but this was shouted down or drowned by the general lowing of triumphant hatred. There was even an enthusiastic roar of support for Donald Trump. In Hartlepool, and by degrees everywhere else, the racist beast is out of its cage, blinking in the unexpected sunlight of what it believes to be democratic approval.





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