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How British Voters Are Thinking About Boris Johnson's Big Win

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to head to England now, where the country is still digesting the results of that momentous general election Thursday. The vote delivered a decisive victory to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party. Johnson is now claiming a strong mandate to deliver on his promise to get Brexit done.

Now, the exact terms under which the U.K. will leave the European Union are still being worked out all these years after the first vote to leave. But Johnson is urging Britons to, quote, "let the healing begin." Still, the campaign highlighted deep divisions in Britain that may take some time to heal.

Now, back in September, we spoke with three British voters about their views on Brexit. They're all from the same general area of England called Yorkshire. We decided to check in with them again after Thursday's election. Andy Shaw voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum, and he voted for a pro-Brexit candidate during this general election.

Andy Shaw, welcome back. Thank you for joining us once again.

ANDY SHAW: Lovely to speak to you.

MARTIN: Louise Houghton voted to remain in the EU.

Louise, welcome back to you as well.

LOUISE HOUGHTON: Thank you.

MARTIN: And finally, Leon French initially voted to leave, and then he tells us he changed his mind. In this campaign, he actually ran as a candidate for the Yorkshire Party, which campaigns on giving local governments more power.

Leon, I understand that you didn't make it through. But congratulations on your run anyway, and thank you for joining us once again as well.

LEON FRENCH: Yeah, lovely. Thank you very much.

MARTIN: OK. So, Andy, I'm going to start with you. Your side prevailed. How are you feeling about things? And how would you describe the mood of the country overall?

SHAW: (Laughter) Well, I'm totally relieved that after - three and a half years after the initial vote, and finally, finally, there is a decisive result where I don't think anybody can reasonably question that the majority of people want to get on with this and make Britain an independent country again. So I feel utterly relieved.

MARTIN: Louise, what about you? I know when we talked last time, you felt very strongly that, you know, misinformation, you know, false information had really characterized the debate. And how are you feeling about things? And how do you assess the mood of the country? So the same two questions to you.

HOUGHTON: It is like a grieving process. It's like we're in mourning - that three and a half years ago, we were given a poor diagnosis of maybe an illness, and everyone kind of was grieving then and then was given that hope. And we have fought desperately, desperately to stop what we know will be absolutely catastrophic for the country. And we failed. And so it starts coming to terms and accepting that there is now, bar a miracle, absolutely nothing we can do.

MARTIN: Leon, what do you think? How do you feel?

FRENCH: Well, to say that I'm annoyed is an understatement, really. I mean, I want to - one thing that I just thought listening to Andy and Louise is the one thing that's not mentioned, really, is the United Kingdom because it's not united. It's disunited. And my annoyance really is with those leavers who consider a mandate in England to be a mandate for the whole of the United Kingdom.

And they are happy to sacrifice the union that we've got as four nations for their silly ideology. And frankly, that's something that has really annoyed me. They are happy to destroy our country for their ideology.

MARTIN: One of the big surprises from this election was that many former Labour Party voters switched to pro-Brexit parties like the Conservative Party and the Brexit Party. So, Leon, the first question I have for you since you were actually out there campaigning, hitting those doors...

FRENCH: Yeah.

MARTIN: Why do you think that is?

SHAW: I think the message get Brexit done worked. It's a lie, but it worked. People have been tired of this arguing. People are tired of the fact that Westminster hasn't been delivering in areas such as Wakefield and Yorkshire as a whole because they've been paralyzed by Brexit.

MARTIN: Andy, of course, now the question to you - why do you think that so many former Labour voters switched to the pro-Brexit parties?

SHAW: Well, I think that lots of people voted to leave, and they were ignored. And the Conservative Party was the only party really who said that they'd follow through on the mandate. And shockingly, lots and lots of working-class people voted Tory for the first time probably in - not just their lives, but their - you know, their family's, their generation's lives.

MARTIN: Can I ask you, though, is it as simple as that? I mean, is it - and not to kind of make a reductionist argument, but are you saying, do you think that people voted for the Conservatives because they thought they would make their lives better? Or do you think that this was primarily an economic move - that people felt that this will improve their lives? Or you think it's more about identity, frankly - that this is how it makes them feel - it makes them feel about their country and about themselves within their country?

SHAW: Well, it's not about improving their lives. I think - and I think that's where the sort of remainer side of the argument is really misunderstood. It's not about having an extra 50 pounds in your wage packet or goods being another 50 pounds cheaper in the shops. It's not just an economic thing. It's about, do we run our own country and shape our own country, or don't we? So it's fundamentally an argument about power and democracy and the influence you have within your own society. So I think yes, that is a very, very strong - in fact, that is the impulse behind Brexit.

MARTIN: OK. Leon, I'm going to ask you the same question because, as we said - as we've said earlier, initially you had voted to leave, and then you changed your mind about that because you thought that the facts were wrong. What was at the core of it? Do you think that people felt that their lives will be better? Or did they just find the other candidates unacceptable? Or was it something else? What do you think is at the core of it?

FRENCH: For me, it's not about what I think. It's about what I was hearing from people actually during the campaign, and it had nothing to do with improving their life. It had nothing to do with identity, had nothing to do with running our own country or any of these sorts of things. It was pure exhaustion.

MARTIN: I just wanted to end up where we started our conversation today, which is where this leaves the country. And I know that this is a hard thing to sort of be scientific about. But from the sense of the social fabric being torn, the sense that people felt very much divided over this and the fact that it really seems to have ruptured a lot of relationships, I wanted to ask each of you what it will take to repair that. Do you think it needs to be repaired? What would be the best case for each of you? So perhaps I will start - Andy, I'll start with you again.

SHAW: Well, it's nearly Christmas, so we're...

(LAUGHTER)

SHAW: So I think we'll enjoy a good Christmas. And I think we're going to have a good time and do normal stuff and drink slightly too much and eat too much. I think longer term, it's - you know, let's see. At least we've got the basis to start - you know, stop the arguments around this. And, you know, maybe people will latch onto entirely another issue to argue about. I don't know. But we've got the basis of - yeah, I think having a good future.

MARTIN: OK. I mean, Christmas is coming, as you pointed out, so time to sort of celebrate. Louise, what about you? I mean, what do you think is next? Is healing needed? And what would heal this? What are you looking forward to?

HOUGHTON: I don't think it will, and I think it's very - it's - I wouldn't say offensive, but the idea that we can move on and have Christmas and eat too much and drink too much. There are people now after 10 years of the Tory Party being in charge that are not - we have actual poverty in our country. We have the highest levels of homelessness, children that are homeless this Christmas that don't get a square meal. So so many families now are not able to celebrate Christmas in any form.

I don't think clamoring to fight to rejoin the EU in a month's time - that's just not going to happen. We have to accept what's happened here. But in terms of coming together, we have divided the nation down two lines as to the sort of person you are, and we very much feel that as an identity. And I can't see how we will bring people together that feel so differently about society and about helping people, about love and compassion, about reaching out into the wide world.

MARTIN: OK. I'm going to give Leon the final thought here. What is needed going forward, in your opinion?

FRENCH: It depends what - when we talk about bringing the country together, it depends which country we mean. Do we mean England or the United Kingdom? If we mean the United Kingdom, that's dead. The Brexiteers have taken it out and shot in the back of the head. Scotland's on its way out the door. Northern Ireland will probably soon follow. But that's now acceptable.

There is no bringing the country together after that. This isn't something that's just going to go away. It's not something that we'll just stopped talking about after the end of January. It's something that will be with us for years. And I think it's going to be a defining feature of the future politics.

MARTIN: Well, thank you all for speaking with us. I understand it's still a difficult conversation to have, and I appreciate the fact that you were able to have it despite the fact that there are strong views on all sides of this. And we do thank you for helping to explain these issues to an audience that - for whom it is not as real and present as it is for you. We heard from Andy Shaw, Louise Houghton and Leon French. They all joined us from Yorkshire in Northern England.

Thank you all so much for talking to us once again.

FRENCH: Thank you.

HOUGHTON: Thanks, Michel.

SHAW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.