Over the last few months Question Time on a Thursday night has become the go to place to get an up close and personal view of what a fractured isle we have become. The behind the scene guys have cottoned on to the fact that these days the audience can offer much more bang for the buck than the panel.
Last Thursday was no exception. Last Thursday we were all taken on a thrilling little day trip to check out the haters of Hartlepool. Hartlepool has become one of the most prominent of our post industrial towns. No wonder the programmers find it hard to resist. It has all the usual boarded up shops and rusting factories. It has the usual bitter ageing population and unusually high levels of illness. The fact the town was once the super safe home of Peter Mandelson adds a certain little something. And of course it delivered a mighty 70% Leave vote back in June. Maybe they are working on some new signage on the edge of town – 'Hartlepool – Leave Town.'
Well it has to be said the audience did the programmers proud. The first question was minimalist in its simplicity. A hard faced woman with about as much humour in her as a letter from the Inland Revenue fixed the cameras with a look of withering aggression.
'Trump or Clinton?'
Dimbleby greeted her pared down words with a small smile and threw the question to the disgraced Canadian media tycoon, Conrad Black. Now I guess I am showing my age here, but I retain an instinctive expectation when it comes to people from the North of England. As in people like me. I expect bent multi millionaires who once strutted their right wing venom through the pages of the Daily Telegraph to be met with the right kind of hostility. Because fractures are hardly anything new. Back in the days of the Miners Strike, a Hartlepool audience would have shown loud solidarity for the lads on strike whilst an audience from Guildford would have cheered the police to the rafters.
But things have changed. Black weighed his thoughts before choosing one of the two words in the question.
And then? Then came a loud burst of enthusiastic applause. In Hartlepool. In the north of England. Here were people who wanted the rest of the country to know that as far as they were concerned the Donald was very much their kind of people.
It set a familiar tone for the next hour. Kenneth Clarke was shouted down before he managed to open his mouth. The female Labour MP whose name I can't remember and can't be bothered to Google was met with contempt. The UKIP councillor was heard out with deference and her words of poisonous wisdom met with applause.
The night slipped along from bad to worse. A Polish woman who had lived and worked in Hartlepool for 23 years and married a local lad was roundly booed when she told us how she no longer felt welcome. A couple of teachers were given similar treatment when they explained how hard it was containing growing levels of playground racism. An orange faced woman looking like an extra from a Star Trek movie demanded for our country to be made great again. I wonder where that particular pearl of wisdom entered her orange head?
Lots of very, very angry men vied with each other to see who could make the veins on their foreheads stand out the most as they demanded Article 50 to be triggered right here, right now.
There is not so much as a hint of Regrexit to be found on the dismal streets of Hartlepool. Oh no, it's the harder the better for these guys. Their message to Downing St could not have been any clearer. Get out now!
Nobody seemed to have much interest in asking what on earth a well hard Brexit was about to do for Hartlepool. The lines were not exactly very hard to read between. Hard Brexit isn't going to be about lots of new factories and well paid jobs. Surely even the most wild eyed Leave merchants can't seriously believe in fairytales of such magnitude. Surely? Instead they want an outcome which can very much be delivered. They want the despised Johnny Foreigner to be sent packing from this Sceptered Isle of ours as soon as possible. Out, now! All of them. The whole pack of them.
And when all is said and done, who can blame them. They can't find work because Lithuanians and the Poles are hogging all the jobs. Their kids can't get a place in school and it takes about ten years to get to see a GP because there are over pampered foreigners at the head of every queue. I guess the last time the good folk of Hartlepool were so comprehensively invaded by marauding Europeans was when a fleet of Viking long boats emerged from the mists of the North Sea back in the day.
I took to Google to try and get a feel for how it must be for people to be so thoroughly swamped by such a rising tide of grasping strangers so perfectly depicted by Nigel Farage's 'Breaking Point' poster.
Lucky we don't pay any attention to experts and their ridiculous statistics any more. Here's why I guess.
Percentage of EU citizens in the population – 4%
Percentage of those born overseas in the population – 9%
TOTAL – 13%
Percentage of EU citizens in the population – 0.9%
Percentage of those born overseas in the population – 1.3%
TOTAL – 2.2%
Hang on a second here....
Population of Hartlepool ? 92,000
What is 0.9% of 92,000?
Not so many then.
In fact when you think about it......
About 700,000 EU nationals in the UK help to prop up the NHS and the care system. As in just over 1%. So it kind of looks like the the odds are very much on almost every one of Hartlepool's 828 migrants working as doctors, nurses and care assistants.
So why were so many uber angry middle aged guys so hell bent on the immediate triggering of Article 50 so that a bunch of nurses could be frog marched onto Ryannair and sent packing?
Search me. I guess the sheer pleasure of hate leaves no room for any kind of logic. Sadly we human beings have always been rather too keen on this kind of thing. It never made the remotest kind of sense to blame the Jews for Germany loosing the First World War, suffering hyper inflation and having 20% unemployment. But what had sense to got to do with anything? The most logical people on planet earth vented their anger and duly elected a psychopath with a sweet tooth and the incinerated bones of five million went up chimneys across eastern Europe.
Hate and logic will never be bedfellows. I very much doubt if there will be any pressure whatsoever on primary school places in Hartlepool. Their problem like all of the fading northern towns will be a shrinking, ageing population which can no longer generate enough kids to fill the schools they already have. Their NHS will rely heavily on foreigners because any smart local kid who qualifies as a doctor or nurse uses the qualification as a ticket to get the hell out of Hartlepool as soon as they can.
There are a million and one reasons why Hartlepool has become such a dismal place. Not one of those reasons has anything whatsoever to do with the 828 EU migrants who have chosen to make their home on Teeside. But nobody seems interested in hard truth. Hate is just so much easier. Hate and the pipe dreams of Trump and Farage.
Of course we have all to many Hartlepools up here in Scotland. Thankfully we have managed to avoid the hate. The reason for our post industrial misery is one we absolutely share with the North of England. It has been going on for thirty something years. It started with Thatcher and it never stopped. Successive Westminster Governments have prioritised feathering the nests of the super rich over the desperation of the old industrial heartlands. The people of Hartlepool know this in their bones because their MP famously put it into words when he announced to the world how comfortable he was with people getting 'filthy rich'.
We know it too. But the paths we are taking have diverged. The blighted left behind towns of Brexit Britain seem to following the same road to hell in a hand cart the Germans chose in the 1930's. They are listening to siren voices who tell them the reason for their lives being so utterly shit is all down to 828 European migrants. Thankfully we have different voices up here. Better voices. We are waking up to the fact that most of the bad stuff is all down to a greedy, corrupt place called Westminster. The voices we are hearing are more akin to Gandhi and Nkrumah than Hitler and Mussolini.
Hope not hate.
Songs of freedom, as the man once said. Would the word 'Trump' have got so much as a smatter of applause from an audience anywhere in Scotland? Or London? Or Liverpool? Or Bristol?
Tragically is it becoming clearer with every passing day that the Tory Party have decided to embrace the populist hate for their own nasty ends. Once upon a time an arrogant aristocrat who went by the name of Franz Von Papen thought he could pull the strings of an Austrian oik who went by the name of Adolf Hitler. It didn't work out so well. We need to take heed of the growing ugliness which is taking root south of the border. Pussy footing around and pretending it isn't happening is the wrong call. The right call is to see it for what it is and get the hell out of Dodge as quickly as we can.
As a born and bred Lancastrian, I guess I can see just how lucky we are up here to have the chance of a life boat. We really, really need to climb on board because it won't be there forever.