The city’s future prosperity depends on foreign investmentby David Lascelles / August 11, 2016 / Leave a comment
“Too much Hampstead, not enough Hull,” observed Labour’s Andy Burnham about the campaign to remain in the European Union. And how right he was. Hampstead may have set the tone, but Hull carried the day: 67 per cent of the city’s 250,000 people voted for Brexit. But why such a clear and defiant result? Hull’s future prosperity depends on foreign investment and EU markets—it doesn’t make sense.
Remainers would like to think that Hull would quickly wake up to its mistake, but when I visited in early July, the city had the calmness of a place saying: “I told you so.” It made a refreshing change from the gloom and outrage of north London. There was even an air of abandon. The pavements were still smeared with paint from the day before, when the city had been invaded by more than 3,000 naked men and women daubed in blue to create Spencer Tunick’s installation Sea of Hull. Not long before that, another artistic spectacle, Place des Anges, saw clouds of white feathers float down on the city, and its remains were still scattered about like snow.
These events were not a celebration of the referendum result but a run-up to Hull’s role as the UK’s City of Culture 2017—an upbeat initiative that will disguise any remorse it feels over the vote and provide warmth against economic chill. The centre is being smartened up, with old buildings restored, streets repaved and a massive programme of events planned. Forward-looking Hull is anything but a city that has just voted for self-annihilation.
But that’s the gloss. Something made Hull go for Brexit, and if Prime Minister Theresa May wants to build “one nation” then she needs to understand why.
Travelling there, I got a sense straight away of why Hull feels different. It is at least two and a half hours by rail from London, and for the last part a noisy diesel engine trundles along the north bank of the Humber estuary, a bleak natural barrier. Hull feels separate from the rest of East Yorkshire. Gradually, the outskirts take shape: housing estates, light industry, decaying brick factories, then suddenly you are in its magnificent railway station, a soaring early Victorian palace of arched glass and honey-coloured sandstone.
This was once a very…