Isolated city where the feuds fester and grudges take grip

Hull provides a unique environment for political intrigue
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The Independent Online
HULL achieved city status in 1897, without a cathedral, but it is essentially a large village. Everybody seems to know everybody else, everyone seems to be a distant relative of everyone and a person's business is rarely private. It is easy to see how in this insular environment, grudges and feuds grow and smoulder. The local political scene is a case in point.

While the 60-member Hull City Council may be made up of 58 Labour councillors there is - in the best traditions of the Labour Party - plenty of scope for infighting. As the Hull Daily Mail, said yesterday: "What this week's episode has underlined is the continuing unhealthy state of politics in Hull."

Indeed if ever there was a place where a prominent politician such as John Prescott might be the victim of a smear campaign launched by rivals, Hull would be the ideal environment.

Controversy surrounding the former seaman dates back to the early 70s when he was first became an MP, and there is no doubt that he has ruffled plenty of feathers over the years. But the evidence suggests that the Deputy Prime Minister may be suffering more from paranoia than plotters.

Councillors have been getting the odd threatening late night phone call, the odd offensive package, but no more than in any other large city. In all likelihood, the people said to have launched a political "vendetta" against Mr Prescott, are no more than two men who have tried to sell some very unconfidential information to gullible London-based journalists.

The trains stop at Hull; they go no further. It is not a city you pass through on the way to anywhere else, you have to be going there for a purpose. It is, in more than one sense, the end of the line.

That is not to criticise this compact city of 300,000 people. Its remoteness, both geographically and to a lesser extent culturally, is part of its charm.

It is self-sufficient and self-confident because it has to be. People may tell you that in this age of digital technology, everywhere is only a second away, but they miss the point.

They missed the point too when they predicted that the building of the Humber Bridge - opened by the Queen in 1981 - would make Hull one of the most important crossroads of Britain. It didn't. Many people, particularly students at the well-respected university, find that once they have arrived they don't want to leave the city. They enjoy its laid-back feel, its friendliness, its lack of pretension.

But the point remains: you don't come to Hull unless you mean to come to Hull - the Netherlands by ferry is the only other option - or you have been lured there by people claiming they have a story to sell.

They probably only did it to try and brighten a damp winter afternoon in a city where it always seems to be raining.

It was raining yesterday in Hull. A depressing drizzle blew down Ferensway, one of the main roads in the city centre, and past the Royal Hotel, restored after it was destroyed by arson several years ago.

It was drizzling too at the refurbished marina, full of new, shiny yachts that - since the collapse of the city's fishing industry in the late 70s - are the only boats you'll find. Even the Earl de Grey pub, famously patronised by the city's transvestites and always a safe bet for an afternoon pint whatever your persuasion, was shuttered up against the weather.

Hessle Road, famous as the home of the former trawler families, looked bleak under a cement-grey sky, with men and women bent double against the weather.

Even in the narrow cobbled street outside Wilberforce House - home of William Wilberforce, the man who did so much to end slavery in the British Empire - it was soggy underfoot. Water, like gossip, rumour, and indeed paranoia, gets everywhere.