THE harrowing of Hartlepool was a long time in the making for the Labour Party but, lost in their acquiescent complacency under Sir Keir Starmer, they never saw it coming.

It’s taken 57 years but finally the voters registered their absolute despair at Labour’s ineffective and aloof stewardship. And how. The winning Tory candidate in Thursday night’s by-election gained twice as many votes as the sitting Labour MP.

To portray Hartlepool as belonging to Labour’s heartlands doesn’t really tell the story: this town is at the heart of the heartlands. It takes some amount of neglect and entitlement to lose it to the Tories by such a margin.

If the swing from red to blue were to be repeated in the 2024 UK election, another 38 Labour seats, once considered to be their natural terrain, would also fall to the Tories. The Labour Party, north and south of the border, can now be considered destitute: last orders have been called and they have no home to call their own.

When I visited this town in 2016 after it had voted 70-30 in favour of Brexit scores of Labour voters told me the same story: they had waited in vain for more than two decades for someone, anyone, to heed their cries for help.

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In 2012 Hartlepool was listed in the top 2% of England’s most deprived areas in a survey that measured income, health, education and crime. They were resentful at being labelled racist by the elites in their own party for daring to back Brexit.

If Labour strategists had cared enough to listen they’d know why. After tens of thousands of jobs disappeared in fishing and car manufacturing, there was no industrial strategy to help this area recover. The same story was unfolding up and down the Humber Estuary: a wholesale surrender to Europe on fishing rights was followed by an influx of cheap foreign labour undercutting local wage agreements. These stemmed from EU pay regulations which encouraged exploitation of eastern European workers. To oppose this doesn’t make you racist.

Jeremy Corbyn understood why, though, and this underpinned his long-held disdain for the EU corporate club. On Friday morning, as the full extent of Labour’s Hartlepool capitulation became apparent, several of Sir Keir’s company men were wheeled out to hang it on his predecessor.

The Herald: Anas SarwarAnas Sarwar (Image: free)

“What chance did we have,” they whined, citing Labour’s collapse in 2019, but this was a lame excuse. In these local elections Boris Johnson has surfed the waves of euphoria flowing from the successful vaccination roll-out and the end of lockdown. In 2019, working-class communities, swept up by Brexit and resentful of the Labour’s elites’ EU obsession began to rebel. Hartlepool confirmed that Labour’s Red Wall is now rubble.

In Scotland, the collapse of UK Labour is a watershed moment for the party’s leader, Anas Sarwar. In England, the process of surrendering Labour fortresses to the Tories was begun by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. As they were mesmerised by neo-liberalism and corporatism they came to regard communities like Hartlepool and Bolsover as their politically-incorrect uncle Harry: we can’t disown them but do we really have to talk to them.

Toryism of the most insidious stamp is now embedded in every corner of England and Labour have made gifts of their former territories. The Labour elites who betrayed Corbyn no longer speak the same language as the working-class communities they once purported to represent. It’s a language the Tories have now learned.

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England is now entirely under the control of an Etonian kleptocracy who have commandeered patriotism, royalty and gunboats to hoodwink working-class communities that they share their values. These poor people, owing to Labour’s neglect of them, will learn the harsh truth when the decade of austerity begins and they find themselves once more on the receiving end.

Never has England seemed so distant in its culture, instincts and values. That a dissolute and feckless aristocrat, distrusted by his own party, and for whom £160k-a-year and free accommodation is not enough can triumph in Hartlepool tells its own story.

Mr Sarwar now has a choice to make which will define his leadership. Does he continue to pledge allegiance to a polity now under the eternal dominion of this class? If he chooses to maintain his glib sufferance of such a state then he will make Labour an utter irrelevance in Scotland. If he chooses to lend his weight to a second independence referendum he brings his party back into the game with a chance of forming the first government of an independent Scotland.

English Labour’s failure to heed the messages coming from their former strongholds mirrors the experience of the party in Scotland. They had a sense of entitlement that their fortresses in Glasgow, Dundee, Inverclyde and North Lanarkshire would always come through. As their grandees were seduced by the leather and lace of the Westminster bordello they simply abandoned these communities. Rather than stay and fight for them Jack McConnell, George Foulkes, George Robertson and Alistair Darling chose ermine robes and the Palace of Westminster’s comforting teat.

Mr Sarwar doesn’t need me to tell him that many of his party’s former supporters voted for the SNP on Thursday against all the instincts and traditions of their families. Nicola Sturgeon has expertly deployed a hard Brexit and the gangsterism of Downing Street to keep them. Her promises of seeking a second referendum are now like confetti and last about as long. Scotland’s First Minister merely has to represent something different from the corrupt regime that Mr Sarwar’s ill-judged Unionism reinforces; she doesn’t actually have to make different happen.

If Mr Sarwar maintains his unflinching support for a state destined to be controlled by the hard right for a generation then Labour is finished up here too. In this he’ll betray those working-class communities who have been locked out of the Holyrood vanity project and its platinum-card lounges since the beginning of devolution.

He talks about a Covid recovery parliament, but Hartlepool means that this concept is already out-dated. What’s required now is recovery from a generation of Toryism. In Scotland that can only begin with a referendum on independence.

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