Post by peterski on Apr 7, 2021 17:56:50 GMT
If there was ever a place which defines 'left behind' Britain it is the former industrial port of Hartlepool on the south Durham coast in North-East England . The constituency of Hartlepool (formerly known as Hartlepools, reflecting the identities of what were once two separate towns) is coterminous with the borough council and encapsulates the urban area of the town, the sleepy low key seaside resort of Seaton Carew and a small rural hinterland. Despite the grim reputation foisted upon the town by general ignorance there is much to enjoy on any visit ; the Royal Navy museum hosted at the historic quay, the Gray Art Gallery and museum founded by noted Shipbuilder William Gray , the Ice Cream and Fish and Chip festooned delights of Seaton Carew and its extraodinary expanses of yellow sand and attendant dune system and perhaps the most intriguing of all ; the atmospheric headland of Old Hartlepool with its unique and rather charming eccentric ambience.
Undoubtedly there is also an idiosyncratic streak to the local politics that most often reveals itself in scattergun local election results and oddities like the election of 'Monkey Mayor' Stuart Drummond in 2002 . To casual observers it is Hartlepools' dubious honour of supposedly hanging a shipwrecked monkey as a French spy in the Napoleonic wars that gives the town notoriety , also more recently a dystopian vision of the town was portrayed in channel 4's 'Skint Britain ' . Despite this , Hartlepool has noble and ancient origins on the headland ; site of the Anglo-Saxon St Hilda's church , remnants of medieval town wall and surprisingly handsome streets of Georgian architecture . This original settlement , for many years a modest fishing port , became superseded by the Industrial powerhouse of 'West Hartlepool' largely created by businessman Ralph Ward Jackson as a coal exporting and shipbuilding port in the mid 19th century. Ward Jackson had a chequered business career but is remembered by a beautiful muncipal park in the west end of the town. Jackson became the first MP for the new seat of Hartlepools in 1868 as a Conservative but his narrow victory by 3 votes was portentous for the seat becoming something of a Liberal stronghold , with only single term Liberal Unionist victories until Conservatives held sway from 1924 until 1945.
It was perhaps surprising , given the indusrial nature of the seat, that it took so long to elect a Labour MP and even in the landslide of 1945 Labour snuck home by a mere 275 votes. The majorities for Labour remained in the low thousands until Commander John Kerans , a hero of the Korean war, became the last Conservative MP for Hartlepools in 1959. Ted Leadbitter became MP for Labour in 1964 and was a popular and long serving incumbent alhough never quite managed to establish Hartlepool as a safe seat ( the former Hartlepools becoming the singular Hartlepool in 1974). Leadbitter's successor was a seemingly extraordinary choice for such a gritty northern outpost; being none other than the flamboyant cosmopolitan architect of the soft liberal left 'New Labour' project Peter Mandelson. It is perhaps somewhat paradoxical that only under the verifiable member of the Hampstead elite Mandelson did Hartlepool become safe for Labour , with majorities of 17,000 and 15,000 in 1997 and 2001 respectively . The widely disseminated tale of Mandelson visiting a local chippy,seeing mushy peas and asking for what he thought was Guacamole is apocryphal but fitted a narrative. Yet Mandelson's departure for the European commission in 2004 ushered in a more precarious era for Labour , with a narrow win in the 2004 by-election by the certifiably local and non-elite Iain Wright over an insurgent Liberal Democrat campaign led by the photogenic Jody Dunn. It is perhaps indicative of Labour's gradual pivot away from the concerns of Northern working class voters that Labour victories have become narrow and often on relatively low percentage shares, with 36 % in 2015 and 38% in 2019 providing victory against a fairly neatly split right wing opposition . New candidate Mike Hill boosted his majority to 7,650 in 2017 and clung on by 3,595 in 2019 but a scandal forced his resignation and a subsequent by-election in early 2021.
UKIP and later the Brexit party have competed with the Tories for the anti-Labour vote but Hartlepool had become an early hotbed of Euroscepticism as evidenced by a third place finish for UKIP ( beating the Conservatives) in the 2004 by-election . The Brexit referendum in 2016 duly gave Leave a landslide victory ; its 70-30 split the largest margin in a north-east region where remain only carried one counting area : Newcastle-upon Tyne . This aversion to the EU reflects perhaps it's industrial decline and isolated geographical position and comparisons with fellow struggling east coast communities like Grimsby, Sunderland and Kingston-upon-Hull are pertinent in this regard. Addionally it must be said that working class patriotic feeling is commonly expressed in a place like Hartlepool and ethnic minorities and educated middle class liberals are few in number to counterbalance these sentiments.This working class culture has survived, beaten but not quite unbroken, despite many decades of industrial decline .
Although the loss of shipbuilding , engineering and steel jobs have been continous and relentless since as early as the 1960's there remains the residues of a manufacturing sector, with the Cameron's Lion Brewery in the centre of town being a long standing purveyor of quaffable ales, but the largest plants are 2 steel tube and pipe mills to the south of town remaining as the only active segments of the formerly huge South Durham Iron and Steel works . At the time of writing at least one of these sites is again under threat. Hartlepool Nuclear power station to the south of Seaton Carew is a notable landmark , as is the giant workshop of marine engineer Heereema at Hartlepool docks , a sad recent closure after years of struggles to gain orders. Other manufacturing companies include JDR cables , Graythorp Forge and Engineering, The Expanded Metal company , Coveris packaging and TT electronics. The Tioxide chemical plant and ABLE UK marine yard at the former Graythorp shipyard are visible industrial monoliths in the far south of the consituency, outposts of the more expansive chemical factory sites which are located close by in Stockton North but dominate views south of town. Across the Tees estuary stands the soon to be demolished Redcar Steel Works, currently a massive redevlopment site under the auspices of the 'Teesworks' programme .
As industries have declined , long term worklessness and underemployment have become endemic, with only limited opportunities available in sectors such as retail and public service , with some of the former council estates such as Dyke House, Owton Manor and De Brus becoming bywords for poverty and deprivation . Hartlepool is , however, by no means solely a sinkhole of misery . Fens, Rossmere and Rift House are considered 'better ' estates and the town has a leafy west end . As one climbs the hill from the rather downtrodden 'Middleton Grange' shopping centre the housing stock improves gradually until eventually upper middle class detached properties on wide sylvan streets could almost transport the unwary to a salubrious corner of the home counties. A small segment of the seriously upscale Wynyard village development also sneaks into the constituency in the south-west.
It is these western surburbs that most reliably vote Tory in both local and general elections. Other areas of Tory strength in general elections are the moderately prosperous Seaton Carew , the northern suburbs of Throston and Hart Station and the villages of Hart, Elwick, Dalton Piercy and Greatham. It seems the Conservatives may carry the middle class enclave of the late twentieth century Hartlepool Marina redevelopment , which is anomalous to the predominantly terraced streets and grim estates of the rest of central Hartlepool. Local elections are especially difficult to read across to general elections in Hartlepool as an array of independents and right wing populists have gained traction in recent contests ( a Brexit party and independent coalition ran the council for a time after 2019) and the Labour group has lost members to Socialist Labour and 'Hartlepool People'. Some clarity emerged as a new council was elected on revised boundaries on May 6th , the same day as the by-election which saw North Yorkshire farmer Jill Mortimer capture the seat for the Conservatives . The by-election was seen as a key test of Keir Starmers' ability to arrest the decline of Labour in the so-called 'Red Wall' and also of Boris Johnson's management of the COVID 19 pandemic and vaccine rollout . Bearing in mind demographic trends of an ageing and low educational attainment population the Conservative gain on a huge swing of almost 16 % may prove to be difficult for Labour to undo.
Hartlepool By-Election , May 6th 2021 :
MORTIMER, Jill CON 15,529 51.9 % ( + 23.0 %)
WILLIAMS, Dr Paul LAB 8,589 28.7 % ( - 9.0 %)
LEE, Sam IND 2,904 9.7%
OTHERS (13) 2,911 9.7%
MAJORITY 6,940 23.2 % CON GAIN FROM LAB SWING 16.0 %