Home Page At last, Haverhill is in sync politically with the country 10/05/17

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Hart of the Matter

So the purple tide went out again just as quickly and decisively as it came in – at least as far as the county council elections were concerned.

We still have a General Election to withstand, and then, in a couple of years, it will time to elect borough and town councillors again, and we will see if UKIP can manage to hold on to any of the ground they gained there in 2015.

Haverhill has trodden a singular political path over the past 15 years, but one which, as so often, has been replicated later in the whole country. We’re always ahead of the game here….

Just before the turn of the century, you may remember, not only was Haverhill entirely red, with the town council almost unanimously Labour, a Labour administration at St Edmundsbury Borough Council, and a Labour leader of Suffolk County Council, but Haverhill councillors held senior positions in Ipswich, and a Haverhill councillor was the council leader in Bury.

This had happened in 1995, and two years later the country turned red. Then, slowly, everything began to change. We had a Rainbow coalition in Bury, before it finally turned blue again. The county council hung on in coalition with the Lib Dems, but eventually went blue.

Finally in 2010, the country turned to a coalition, before returning to blue, but by then there was a big purple streak locally. First it was a handful of Haverhill town councillors, then it was our county councillors and finally the purple surge enveloped the borough and the town, although not quite enough to take control.

The country duly followed suit, climaxing in the Brexit vote. And now, for the first time in decades we seem to all be in sync. Mrs May’s Tories are flavour of the month nationally, and Haverhill has returned all Conservative county councillors, booting out the UKIP members – along with both the county and the region.

To adapt W. S. Gilbert in The Mikado, ‘I never knew such unanimity on a point of politics in all my life’. But, just a minute, is that the picture we get from analysts?

They are still talking about the ‘populist vote’, and about the ‘anti-establishment’ movement across the world, extrapolating that from Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

I don’t think I can recall a more ‘establishment’ figure in British politics than Theresa May. Even Margaret Thatcher was an outsider to a degree, not just because she was a woman, but also a grocer’s daughter from Lincolnshire. John Major’s father was an acrobat.

But Theresa May is Middle England personified – a clergyman’s daughter from the Home Counties. Everything she stands for is ‘establishment’ – monarchy, armed forces, church, wealth creation. She goes hill-walking, for goodness sake (as do I).

Yet everyone loves her – or nearly everyone. And in France they’ve just elected an ex-banker. So the next time anyone talks at me through my television screen about ‘anti-establishment’ movements, I shall probably throw something.

There have, of course, been victims. I carry no torch for UKIP, but I think we should pay tribute to Julian Flood who, for four years, has worked very hard for the people of a town with which he had no real connection at all.

Travelling back and forth from Coney Weston, he must have wondered sometimes why he bothered, particularly as he came to discover more and more how difficult it is to get even the smallest things done in local government.

Despite all that, his track record did him no good in last week’s elections, against the steamroller that is Theresa May. Voters have never been any good at gratitude – ask Churchill, or, more pertinently, ask the Labour councillors of 15 years ago, like Gerry Kiernan.

Six months before they were all booted out, Haverhill Town Council had received a 78 per cent satisfaction rating in a town survey, the highest of any that the researchers had encountered across the country.

History shows that there is very little chance of stopping a bandwagon once it is rolling. Logic and calm analysis go out of the window as people suddenly find something they can believe in – for a while.

I remember a glorious morning in May 1997, when Tony Blair’s Labour Party swept to victory. As Lord Of The Rings nerds might have said: ‘We deemed that evil was over for ever, and it was not so’.

No one knows what Brexit holds in store for us. I hear both sides of the argument. But I cannot abide the certainty with which many are now approaching it. As with religious fervour, I distrust certainty.

Sometimes I almost have more sympathy with the out-and-out anti-foreigners faction, however much I hate what they stand for. At least they believe in something. They wouldn’t mind being a lot poorer if only they could keep the foreigners out. Well, it’s unpleasant, it’s offensive, it’s dangerous and it’s terrifying, but at least it’s honest.

But I cannot blindly accept a vague prediction, or even expectation, that it will be alright because we’re British and we voted for it. I can hope for the best, but no more than that.

I fear that the convinced Brexiteers are still under the illusion that we are leaving an economic organisation, whereas we are in fact leaving a political organisation. Just as some wouldn’t mind being worse off to get their political ends, so the EU countries look to me as if they won’t mind being a lot worse off just to hold their union together, because the thing they fear above all is not unemployment, or immigration, or financial crashes, but war.

I feel rather as I did in 2003 when we were being told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I wish I had a pound for the number of times I said to people then that just because someone puts a sign up saying beware of the dog, it doesn’t mean they’ve got a dog. A sign is a lot cheaper.

But no, everyone was so sure, particularly after the famous dossier was issued. What the experts – weapons experts – said went for nothing. Basically, people wanted to blame Saddam Hussein, because he had committed such inhuman atrocities, for all the ills of the Middle East, and plenty of our own. They wanted to do something.

There has to be a bogeyman, when things are not great. Now the bogeyman is the EU.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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