What does the Hartlepool by-election result tell us? Many things, no doubt. But surely that the political dynamics which gave us Brexit are still very much in play – and not much that the Labour Party can do about it.
The same dynamics have brought an end to Arlene Foster’s time as First Minister of Northern Ireland. Under her leadership, the DUP made two strategic errors – the first when the supported Brexit; the second when they believed Boris Johnson when he said that there would be no border in the Irish Sea.
Fintan O’Toole, writing in the Irish Times, put it like this:
“They were exactly the consequences that unionism should have most feared. Brexit would destabilise the UK as a political entity. And it would, by dragging them out of the EU against their will, alienate the Catholics of Northern Ireland. It was a missile precisely targeted against Ulster unionism’s own protective walls. The DUP said: “Fire ahead!”
Meanwhile, on a slightly more cerebral level, I’ve been reading Professor Anthony Reddie’s book ‘Theologising Brexit’ – having listened to him recently on the Corrymeela Podcast. Professor Reddie is Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture and a leading authority on Black Liberation Theology. He describes his book as concerned with ‘providing a theological articulation of the subtextual nature of Brexit that was the collective dis-ease with immigration, ‘race’ and notions of ethnic and cultural difference in Britain, as opposed to discussing the merits or otherwise of the European Union.’
In suggesting that churches and faith communities have largely failed to make a theological or prophetic response to Brexit, he mentions that ‘Anglicans were more disposed to vote Leave than any other religiously defined group in the United Kingdom when it came to Brexit.’ And he went on to remark that it was the Anglicanism of the Vicar of Dibley – where there wasn’t a black face in sight – which would have voted leave while the Anglicanism of ‘Rev’ would have voted Remain.
It seems to me that, as Arlene Foster discovered, Brexit poses political questions which it is very hard to answer. Meanwhile stresses and strains in the United Kingdom are growing – and the previously unimaginable prospect of some kind of rapprochement between North and South in Ireland becomes something which can at least be talked about.