M.ith masks and woolen hats, Anthony Frain and his election campaign workers from the Labor Party brace themselves against the sea breeze and tackle the South Crescent, a street that could be described as a waterfront promenade in Hartlepool. When the squad rang the doorbell and took stock of the conversations with the citizens, there was quiet resignation. Of the few who have opened the door, a depressing number said that they will vote for the Tories or have even voted by letter.
The Labor Party is still hoping for a miracle, but it is likely that Hartlepool voters will send a Conservative representative to Parliament in London this Thursday. That will send shock waves far beyond the port city, because Hartlepool is traditionally considered an impregnable Labor fortress.
Change in the political landscape
When the city – a little bigger than Wilhelmshaven and a little smaller than Bremerhaven – was still prospering and in some years built most of the ships in the country, Labor was chosen to improve working conditions and raise wages. When the port and the surrounding steelworks slipped into crisis and were soon largely de-industrialized, Labor was chosen to cushion the process and increase compensation. For the past ten years, a tick in Labor was at least one vote against conservative austerity. Now the majority of the “Hartlepudlians” apparently want to support Boris Johnson.
The by-election became necessary after Labor MP Mike Hill resigned his seat on allegations of sexual harassment. His successor will now be voted on on the same day that the British elect new local representatives and regional parliaments. The result in Scotland, in particular, will dominate the national debate, but the overshadowed Hartlepool election could mark an equally astounding change in the political landscape.
Johnson won the 2019 elections with the promise not only to enforce Brexit, but also to pursue politics on a permanent basis for those who had wanted to leave the EU. He committed himself to an equalization of living conditions in the north of England, to a “leveling up”, and thus broke into the so-called red wall, behind which the Labor Party had been elected since ancient times. For the first time since the parliamentary elections, the by-election in Hartlepool, one of the poorest cities in the kingdom, shows whether the Tories’ storm on the “Red Wall” is continuing or whether it has lost some of its strength. The question at stake is nothing less than whether the Conservatives under Johnson have become the “new workers’ party”.
Language regulations for the expected defeat
The stakes are high. The Prime Minister himself was already traveling into town to ring the doorbells. Today Keir Starmer, the Labor leader, is here. The language rules for the expected defeat are already being tested in his entourage. “The choice comes a little early,” they say. Or: “Keir had too little time to realign the party.” Should the Labor Party lose on Thursday, it will be said that this was to be expected after the difficult years under Jeremy Corbyn. If the mandate is kept, as before, the Labor Party intends to speak of an unexpected success in all seriousness.
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