Taking heart from Hartlepool

I hoped that the June 2016 vote in favor of Brexit might be a harbinger of the outcome in our own presidential election but feared this was wishful thinking. I was thinking — I think I was thinking — of the wave that brought Mehachem Begin to power in 1977, Margaret Thatcher in 1979, and Ronald Reagan in 1980. And so it proved to be.

Reading Melanie Phillips’s long column on the one-off parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool last week has me wondering similar thoughts. Phillips prefaces her thoughts with an observation:

The significance of the Hartlepool result is hard to exaggerate. This was a rock-solid, northern, blue-collar working-class Labour constituency which had elected a Labour MP for the past 62 years. Now the Tories [in the person of Jill Mortimer] have won it with a majority of nearly 7,000 votes on a swing of 16 per cent — only the second time in nearly 40 years that a governing party has taken a seat from the opposition.

Drawing out the meaning of the result, Phillips writes:

In the 2016 EU referendum, Hartlepool overwhelmingly voted Leave by 69.6 per cent to 30.4 per cent. In the 2019 general election, its Labour MP, Mike Hill, hung on to his seat although his share of the vote dropped by 15 per cent.

Yesterday’s by-election was triggered because in March Hill resigned, following sexual harassment allegations against him which he denies. Yet, despite Hartlepool’s overwhelming Brexit vote, the party installed a Remainer, Dr Paul Williams, to fight the seat.

This extraordinary gesture of contempt for Hartlepool’s vote in the most momentous plebiscite in the nation’s memory suggests two things. First, the party leadership believed that the Brexit issue could now safely be parked as past history. Second, it demonstrated that the leadership just cannot or will not understand or acknowledge the full significance of that Brexit vote.

For it wasn’t just about membership of the European Union. It was about what that stood for: an erosion of the British people’s democratic right to govern themselves in accordance with their own historic culture and traditions, a right which had been removed from them by an entire political class — including the Labour party — which no longer wanted to defend and even seemed to despise their nation and its culture.

The question occurs to me whether Democrats may be better at masking their contempt for America, Americans, and American history than the Labour crowd is about masking its contempt for working-class voters who support “their own historic culture and traditions,” or whether Republicans can unmask it. In any event, Phillips has much more, all of it of interest — whole thing here.

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