'It's Just How It Is': Away From Westminster, Some People Think Not Voting For Boris Johnson Is Politics As Normal

Britain's new PM was elected by a tiny fraction of the country. But with voters feeling increasingly disengaged, HuffPost UK spoke to sun worshippers in Leicester and heard it's a case of "leaving them to it”.

Leicester is bustling on a sweaty Tuesday afternoon.

A travelling fair is in town, its rides spinning on the city’s Abbey Park. Nearby, a Mr Whippy van does brisk trade beside an outdoor gym.

Given the weather, you might think the news that Boris Johnson will become prime minister after being elected as the new Conservative Party leader 100 miles away in Westminster would be far from people’s minds.

Yet on a picnic bench besides the park’s cafe, an intense discussion is underway about just that. A woman reads a Sky News article about Johnson’s win out loud – verbatim – announcing the news to those nearby.

Public opinion of our system of government is at its lowest point since the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009, according to a recent study by the Hansard Society, which also found an increasing appetite for radical political change as well as feelings of powerlessness and disengagement.

In Leicester, while talking about politics, there’s a sense from many of those HuffPost UK spoke to that selecting the next PM is none of their business.

“That’s just how it is and there’s nothing we can do to change that,” Jessica, 68, says while sitting in a sensible patch of shade with her sister Vivian, 71.

The pair didn’t seem surprised by the news Johnson had won the leadership race, but nonetheless thought their lack of say wasn’t a problem.

“It doesn’t affect things now,” Vivian adds with a pause. “He needs to get a good [Brexit] deal, or whatever. I’m not too bothered about the election. I feel it wouldn’t have changed anything.”

Leicester Market was busy on Tuesday afternoon despite sweltering heat.
Leicester Market was busy on Tuesday afternoon despite sweltering heat.
George Bowden/HuffPost UK

Others were pleased with Johnson’s win, despite not having a vote. “Good on him,” Tristan Thompson, 36, says when asked about Johnson’s victory. “I like him. He’s not like the others.”

Asked to elaborate, Thompson, a carpenter by trade, adds: “Well, he’s just not like the other ones we’ve had. He seems to want to get things done. And to be honest, I find him funny.”

Johnson, who gained 66% of the 138,809 votes cast by Tory party members, was chosen by a relatively small group of people considering the UK’s total population of roughly 66 million.

That doesn’t bother Thompson. “Well even if the public had had a vote, it would have been the same result, I think,” he says. “Let’s give him a go now the rest has had their chance.”

Supporters of Johnson have said similar things when challenged about an apparent lack of democracy in the process of choosing a new Conservative leader when the party is in government.

Boris Johnson won the Conservative leadership contest with 66% of the vote.
Boris Johnson won the Conservative leadership contest with 66% of the vote.
PA Wire/PA Images

Others add that, in a parliamentary democracy, it is general elections that count – people vote for their local MPs, not the PM – so a lack of “personal mandate” isn’t an issue.

But it was this absence of a perceived mandate that led Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, to head to the polls in 2017 – with disastrous consequences.

And Johnson’s new despatch box foe, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, pounced on Tuesday, saying Johnson “hasn’t won the support of our country”.

Johnson becoming prime minister without a poll of the wider public is an unpalatable turn of events for some.

“It’s hideous,” Ali Knighton, 44, says as she sits on a camping chair besides the boating lake. “He’s a nightmare.”

“It’s all turning into Years and Years,” Knighton’s friend, Sarah Fisk, also 44, adds in reference to the dystopian BBC TV drama. “It’s worrying.”

“It’s a weird one. I know more people should have had a vote,” Knighton says.

“I think it should have been a country vote,” Fisk adds. “I think when the Chancellor [Philip Hammond] said he would resign over Boris [Johnson] that should have spoken volumes.”

Ali Knighton, left, and Sarah Fisk, right, said the prospect of Boris Johnson as PM was 'hideous'.
Ali Knighton, left, and Sarah Fisk, right, said the prospect of Boris Johnson as PM was 'hideous'.
George Bowden/HuffPost UK

“Yes,” Knighton agrees. “To have someone like that decide to go over it, it should have been taken more seriously.”

“There was infighting in [the Tory] party too, so if they can’t agree, how is that a fair for the rest of us?” she asks.

“It feels like we don’t know what’s happening anymore,” Fisk says.

“It’s creating apathy,” Knighton adds. “There’s no control.”

“I think they need to stop everything and have a re-think,” Fisk says.

Meanwhile, in Leicester’s busy central market, frustration lies on Britain’s delayed departure from the European Union.

“I can’t say I like the other one,” Lisa Clough, 37, says with reference to Johnson’s failed opponent, Jeremy Hunt. “What I don’t get is why we aren’t out [of the EU] yet.”

Clough says that politicians in general have done a poor job of representing the people.

“I think they should have a reshuffle of the lot of them,” she adds, before returning to tend to a customer on her haberdashery stall.

For others, the question of a vote to choose prime minister comes down to party lines. “I wouldn’t vote Conservative,” Mark Curtis, 53, says when asked whether he would have liked a vote in the selection.

“He might do well – and I hope he does – but I think they’ve messed it all up with Brexit,” he adds.

Curtis, who is long-term unemployed, mentions his difficulties providing references for previous jobs at companies that have gone into liquidation.

“It’s things like that, that matter for me,” he adds.

For Knighton and Frisk, who spoke to HuffPost UK whilst looking after their children paddling in Abbey Park’s tempting lake, the scorching weather has brought with it a fresh perspective on politics.

“We were actually saying earlier when we heard the news [of Johnson’s win], it’s a beautiful day and we need to enjoy it and leave them lot [in Westminster] to it.”


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