Safe inside our metropolitan bubble, we journalists, pundits, commentators and analysts rarely bother to think about, still less visit, swathes of the country whose stories are every bit as important as anything going on in Westminster but which remain almost completely ignored by the mainstream media barring an unexpected or totemic by-election contest.
Whereupon the familiar cavalcade is assembled, bundled onto a train and sent up north to accost the locals in half-empty shopping precincts or windswept promenades to ask how they plan to vote. Welcome to the Hartlepool by-election. Guardian journalist and contributor to Unherd Tanya Gold makes the journey to the North Eastern coastal town. She begins her report with these words:
"As I step out of Hartlepool station, I see the Prime Minister’s motorcade. It is neurotically large. The cognitive dissonance of these cars with the landscape — rotting Edwardian houses, boarded up hotels — is shocking because in Hartlepool decline meets you like a wall of heat. There are shards of past wonder — a ruined church, a sailing ship in the marina — but they are singular, choked by ring roads and sprawl.
The Tories think they will take this seat from Labour in the by-election on Thursday called after the Labour MP Mike Hill quit, beset by allegations of sexual misconduct. They may well: another brick from the wall. (Hartlepool has been Labour since the seat was created in 1974.)
The first potential voters I meet wait for theocracy, which is a fair measure of alienation. Still, they are chirpy because they have given up on politics, and the weather is fine.
They are three elderly women, sunning themselves by the war memorial. “We don’t vote for any political party,” says one, “because we are a non-political organisation and the only one is Jehovah God. His kingdom is the kingdom that will rule the earth. We know by the things that are happening now. No government in the world can solve these problems. Only God. We need theocracy.” I try to imagine the logo on a leaflet and fail."
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