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Hartlepool -

a Monkey puzzle for RESPECT?

Andy Newman


In the realm of electoral politics Tony Blair is simply a genius. Increasingly modelling himself on Michael Corleone it seems, he has played a master stroke by rewarding his Consilieri Mandelson with a fantastic job as EU commissioner.

As a Labour backbencher Mandelson has apparently returned to Blair's closest inner circle since last September's resignation of Alistair Campbell. The EU commissioner's job will give him a salary of 145000, plus an extra 15% annual residence allowance, and a 7000 entertainment budget. He also trousers a one-off relocation allowance of around 40000, and a two thirds final salary pension.

By displaying this patronage in favour of the twice discredited Mandelson, Blair demonstrates that he is in full control, after swatting aside opposition attempts to hold him to account over Butler. It also has the benefit of setting another hare running for the journalists in the Westminster village, distracting them from Iraq. At the same time he shows that he does not forget to reward his friends. What is more, Mandelson out of sight in Brussels is only a phone call away, but no-one in the British press will really care what he does there.

So this is a master stroke of a politician at the height of his powers.

The full extent of Blair's Machiavellian cunning is revealed by considering the effect of a by-election in Hartlepool, Mandelson's constituency. This is one of Labour's safest seats, and Labour can be more confident than any of the opposition parties.  Of course, the mascot of Hartlepool's football team H'Angus the Monkey, alias Stuart Drummond, defeated Labour to become the town's elected mayor in 2002. But history has shown that the good citizens of Hartlepool are poor judges of monkey-related issues, and this is unlikely to effect a Westminster by-election.

Admittedly, in recent years the Lib Dems have polled well in council elections.  On the other hand, Hartlepool has suffered badly from EU fishing regulations, and the European aspect of Mandelson's elevation will favour the UKIP rather than the Lib Dems. Indeed in the Euro election on 10th June UKIP received 19.8% in Hartlepool, coming second in front of both the Tories and Lib Dems. Kilroy Silk has already suggested he may be the UKIP candidate. UKIP could do very well should Europe rather than Iraq become the defining issue, and in a by-election context may even have aspirations of winning the seat!

Most significantly, another by-election where the Tories come third or even fourth would be a disaster for Michael Howard.

The difficult challenge for Respect is that this is both a very unfavourable contest, and one that is hard to avoid. In the 2001 general election Arthur Scargill stood against Mandelson and scored a creditable 2.4%, getting over 900 votes. At the time most of us were a bit disappointed by this performance, but in hindsight it was quite good.

Hartlepool is a small working class town (population 88000, electorate 67000). According to the 2001 census 98.8% of Hartlepool's population describe themselves as white and only 0.4% are Moslem. Undoubtedly left organisation in the town is relatively weak, although this is one of the few towns where Respect stood candidates for the local elections. This is the sort of town where Respect polled very badly in the Euro elections on June 10th right across the country, and in Hartlepool they polled only 1.0%. Remember, in many parts of the country Respect polled no better in the Euro elections than Scargill's Socialist Labour Party (SLP) did in 1999.

However, the 2.4% vote for the SLP in 2001 shows that there is an audience for a socialist alternative in Hartlepool. What is more, the fact that Mandelson personifies the New Labour ethos means that there is a crying need for a left challenge in the by-election.

The difficulty for Respect is that if it doesn't contest this election then many on the left will accuse them of walking away from white working class constituencies. But if Respect does contest the election and performs worse than 2.4% then this will be a very sobering reality check. Perhaps they may save face by offering to stand aside in favour of the Greens?

June 2001 General Election result:
 

Peter Mandelson (Lab) 22,506 (59.15%)
Gus Robinson (C) 7,935 (20.85%)
Nigel Boddy (LD) 5,717 (15.02%)
Arthur Scargill (Socialist Lab) 912 (2.40%)

June 2004 Euro election result:

The Labour Party Candidates

8,295 (32.5%)

UK Independence Party

5,056 (19.8%)

Conservatives

4,332 (17%)

Liberal Democrats

3,469 (13.6%)

British National Party

1,572 (6.2%)

Neil Herron - Independent

 1,469 (5.8%)

Green Party

1,058 (4.2%)

Respect - The Unity Coalition (George Galloway)

266 (1.0%)

 

 

 

 


 

 

July 2004

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