How Hartlepool could be on the cusp of voting for the Brexit Party

Allegra Stratton

Former National Editor

It’s pretty frustrating traveling the country, going to once proud, handsome places that polling, surveys, election results and what’s in front of your own eyes suggests have been “left behind”.

That’s how we felt visiting Hartlepool today but you could replace that town for so many other places around the country.

“Frustrating” because it’s been obvious for aeons these places want some cash and care.

Do some casual googling and you’ll come across a piece on how the port is struggling from the year 2000. If I lived in Hartlepool, I would be hopping mad.

The port is struggling.

We’re here because it looks to be Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party's number one target and so it has received a heck of a lot of attention.

So much attention they are all a bit over it.

Ten minutes in a pub last night and I had been asked twice: “You’re not going to make one of THOSE pieces about us are you?”

I supposed they meant – Hartlepool, Brexit Hotbed. I said I’d try not to.

Farage has put a lot of elbow grease into Hartlepool – it’s where they announced their decision not to contest Tory held seats and we’re told Nigel Farage is heading here tomorrow.

When we spoke to ITV’s election analyst Colin Rallings, he told us Hartlepool was the party’s “best shot around the country".

The two Stoke seats too; Great Grimsby, but Hartlepool first and foremost.

ITV News was asked if it would be one of THOSE pieces in a pub.

That’s what Leo Gillen told us too.

He made political history - poor man - when he stood as the Labour mayoral candidate in 2002 and they elected a monkey rather than Gillen.

Nearly twenty years on from that political trauma he runs a chain of pubs in the area and so has a very good feel for the place – he believes the town to be on the cusp of turning to the Brexit party.

He’s still a Labour member and a fervent, lucid supporter of the party just not a Corbynista.

He believes Labour is struggling because the party, under Jeremy Corbyn, has little to offer a place like Hartlepool.

Or indeed other towns around the country.

Analysis by Professor Will Jennings has shown that in the 2017 general election, Labour had a comfortable lead among voters in big cities; that lead shortened in large towns and then in small towns, the Labour party lost out to Conservatives.

Leo Gillen stood as the Labour mayoral candidate in 2002 and they elected a monkey rather than Gillen.

For him, the current Labour offer – tackling inequality and climate change, with Corbyn in charge and no commitment to Brexit – doesn’t connect with voters in leave towns.

The Labour party will – with justification – say that their agenda is as relevant to people in towns like Hartlepool.

Coastal Hartlepool is exactly the place that could benefit from green jobs in off shore wind; better broadband would allow more young people to feel they could be enterprising in their home town.

Totally fair points.

Also, the Labour party is now alive to this and has launched efforts to correct the problem with its Labour Towns fund.

But the polling – and recent local election results - speak for themselves.

And this unhappiness means it is fertile territory for the Brexit party.

Even so, the Labour party is very lucky with its voters.

There are places in the North East that are just so ardently Labour you wonder what Jeremy Corbyn would have to do to lose Labour their support.

Unhappiness means this is fertile territory for the Brexit party.

From a day here – I know, really not very much – I am not so certain it will vote in the Brexit party just yet.

The tireless and charming (and tirelessly charming) team Nathan Lee and Rob Turner went off for two hours surveying the people of Hartlepool while I cut the beginnings of the piece together with Tony Bennison.

They didn’t find many people who said they would vote for the Brexit Party. Instead most were very, very, staunchly loyal to Labour.

The opinion polls have shown the Brexit Party being squeezed and ITV's election guru Colin Rallings told us he didn’t think, on current performance, Farage’s army would get a seat come December 13th.

But what about the Tory party? Why won’t the leave voting North East go Tory?

Yes, yes, I know about tribal hatred of “Tory scum” but if not now, when?

There are places (richer places) in the North East that have already gone Conservative – Middlesborough South at the last election.

Darlington was briefly Tory in the 80s. Stockton South, Conservative until 2017 will probably go Conservative again.

Bishop Auckland is a high target (though I gather could still prove tricky).

Will there be a wave of votes to the Brexit Party in Hartlepool?

But what about the higher hanging fruit? Tony Blair’s old seat of Sedgefield? Apparently a possible Tory gain but not probable.

But why not a certain gain?

These are leave voting places that, having suffered over recent years, you would imagine might be prepared to vote for a party that is at least promising to take them out of the EU.

Nope. No way.

Interestingly people mentioned that they liked Kier Starmer up here – I didn’t dare point out that he was on the more Remain end of the Labour party spectrum.

It reminded me of how much this part of the world enjoyed having a near monopoly on the upper echelons of the Labour party: they loved sharp-suited, power-posing Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, John Prescott and David Miliband.

But the central fight today is Nigel Farage’s aggressive onslaught on Hartlepool.

And indeed, with three weeks to go, the place may yet ditch Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party and embrace Nigel Farage’s Brexit party.

People in Hartlepool do like Farage, he does still seem to have it.

But does he have 'it' in large enough quantities?

We gate-crashed a pub quiz at the Jackson Arms and were allowed to lob our own question in.

Was Hartlepool going to make Nigel Farage “cry or smile” on election night?

It was a tiny sample of a dozen people but even so, most said they thought he would cry.

Read more from Allegra's Battleground series: