Theresa May never intended to go through with Brexit and has all along been scheming to keep Britain in the European Union, but Boris Johnson might still be able to get us out.
So said a number of voters in Peterborough, where 61 per cent of people voted Leave, and where a by-election will be held on 6th June to replace the disgraced former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya.
Lawrence Howard, 44, lives in the village of Thorney – east of Peterborough but inside the parliamentary seat – where Onasanya committed the speeding offence which she attempted so disastrously to cover up.
He said he had been a Labour voter all his life, and had voted for her at the general election when she defeated the Conservative MP Stewart Jackson by 607 votes, but would not be voting Labour again: “From now on I’m going to vote blue because of her. I’m going to be a turncoat, just like Tony Blair.”
Onasanya is, however, by no means the only reason why voters in Peterborough have lost faith in politicians. A number of people expressed their disgust at the installation of a new Mayor of Peterborough, Gul Nawaz (Conservative), who was jailed in 2002 for housing benefit fraud.
Cllr Nawaz’s suggestion that his offence took place in the last century, so should now present no problem, was regarded as unsatisfactory by a considerable number of voters.
But Brexit was the main issue which has led many people in Peterborough to regard politicians with a curious mixture of weary resignation and bottomless contempt.
Peterborough possesses, in its cathedral, a sublime edifice whose west front, completed in 1238 and wider than the interior, is one of the wonders of Christendom.
These interviews took place on Tuesday afternoon in some of the nearby streets, which are well provided with benches, but where some of the buildings are of dispiriting shoddiness. A number of people said they were upset that Peterborough has so many homeless people.
Almost everyone was friendly, and happy to spend time talking about politics, but it was difficult to extrapolate from these responses what will happen in the by-election.
Traditional loyalties now appear to count for almost nothing, and many people said they have not yet decided how they will vote. Almost all the Leavers said they will vote for the Brexit Party in the European elections today, but even this information was not volunteered, and had to be obtained by direct questioning in which the interviewer was the first person to mention the words “Brexit Party”.
This reticence may stem from a feeling of disloyalty to whichever party the individual concerned used until recently to support. An even deeper reticence obscured voting intentions in the by-election to be held in two weeks’ time tomorrow.
Will a strong performance by Nigel Farage’s movement in today’s poll translate into success a fortnight later in the by-election? My guess is that it will, unless clear action has been taken by then to implement Brexit.
But that is only a guess: it is not something people were prepared to say. Johnson was mentioned more often than Nigel Farage – though one woman who is not going to vote for the Brexit Party expressed sympathy with the latter figure for having “yoghurt” thrown over him.
Another man, a Leaver, said he had been to the rally held by Farage a fortnight ago in Peterborough, “not that I needed any persuading to support him”, and remarked with satisfaction that it had been attended by 1800 people.
William, a 64-year-old engineer from Scotland who has lived in Peterborough for many years, said with a sigh:
“I give up on politics. We voted to leave. I think we should have left by now. I give up. I’ve no trust whatever in politics now. I used to vote Labour. But having said that, I was one of the idiots that voted for Margaret Thatcher.
“I only recently started going back to Labour – maybe the last eight or nine years. I voted UKIP for the first time in 2017.”
William voted Leave in the referendums of both 2016 and 1975, but his party allegiance is fluid. He has pretty much given up believing we will leave the EU: “If we were going to leave, it would have happened by now.”
And he wondered if May is actually working to keep us in: “She’s put forward something that’s going to be chucked out, and there’ll be another referendum, and Leave won’t win.”
Without being asked what will happen next, he went on: “When she steps down I could see the ex-mayor of London will get the job, and him and Trump, what a combination. Between them they might make things great, you never know.”
An old man said of Brexit and the House of Commons: “It’s disgraceful. They all agreed to do it and they haven’t. The Speaker, he’s in on it. He should be put in a cart and taken to Tyburn.”
A maintenance engineer who was having a drink in The Draper’s Arms in Cowgate said: “I might vote for Boris in due course, because he’s positive.
“Theresa May was a loser. She could never win this. So why did she take the job? Maybe it’s a great political scheme to stay in.
“The Conservative Party, not as a whole, but its leadership are trying their best to keep us in. Theresa May never intended what she said at the start, that no deal is better than a bad deal. That was just a lie to keep the Leave people at bay.”
A woman in the pub took a different view. She said Nigel Farage will do so well in the European elections that Conservative and Labour politicians will “put their heads together and sort it out”.
A former shop steward who worked for 42 years for Hotpoint in Peterborough said: “If we stay in the EU within a few years we’ll just be a county of Europe. The sovereignty thing is more important to me than the trade thing.
“You can tell old Gorbachev – did I say Gorbachev? I meant Corbyn – at heart is a Leaver, but his party on the whole are Remainers.
“The bit of Peterborough where I live is flooded with EU nationals. Only one British shop is left and that’s Iceland.
“The majority of the Tory Party want no deal. How the hell can a Tory Prime Minister go against that? It doesn’t stack up.
“Not in a normal situation, if Brexit wasn’t around, but in the present situation I think it would take someone like Boris, if we can’t have Trump, to get us out of the mire we’re in.
“So if I had a vote I’d definitely be for Boris.
“And then when we’re out of the EU I’d probably change my mind.”
A woman who gave her occupation as housewife said: “I think the working class is out the door now. They’ve got no time for us. They’ve put many too many foreigners in the country and I feel sometimes we get forgotten.
“You take care of your own before you take care of everyone else.
“I used to vote for Labour, but I don’t know, I’m still thinking things over, put it that way.”
The housewife turned out to be a Remainer: “If we get out we’re going to be forsaking all the ones who died in the war. So I’d rather stay in the European Union.”
She was the only person who stood up for Onasanya: “They’re all making mountains out of molehills. They’re picking on her to make her a scapegoat. I thought leave her alone.
“She might have lied, but how many politicians lie. She’s just done what anyone else would have done.”
ConHome: “But surely if you were caught speeding, you wouldn’t lie.”
Housewife: “No, I would lie.”