By Nick Martin, people and politics correspondent
Something odd is happening in the depths of Derbyshire. And it’s all to do with European elections no one thought for a minute we would be taking part in.And it is the Conservative leader of the local council here that has become the unlikely spearhead of a remarkable political protest.
Cllr Barry Lewis says he is so fed up with Brexit and the ensuing chaos that he is ignoring the fact that there are elections to the European Parliament to be fought this week.”The people of Derbyshire are fed up with Brexit and frankly so am I. I am not saying that people shouldn’t vote. They should. But we should also be sending a message to all those in Westminster that we have had enough.”
Cllr Barry Lewis is deliberately ignoring the fact that there are elections to the European Parliament this week
He and his team will not be printing off leaflets or knocking on doors or pounding the streets for a friendly face from which to secure a vote. There will be no campaigning, not even for his own party. Cllr Lewis is flatly refusing.
He lives and works in a county that opted for Brexit and says his stance on the European elections is in line with the people he serves.”This is us standing in solidarity with our residents who believe that we should have left the European Union and the fact that we haven’t is a scandal.”
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Over the weekend, Theresa May promised a “new, bold offer to MP’s across the House of Commons” and an “improved package of measures” when her Withdrawal Agreement Bill comes back for another vote. But away from Westminster in county’s like Derbyshire the damage has already been done.Levels of cynicism are sky rocketing while faith in politics is in free-fall. Talk to ordinary people about Brexit, politicians, even policy and you get laughed at.When asked if she’s looking forward to the European election, Fiona Bath, a cleaner from Matlock, shouts: “Don’t talk to me about elections. Who are we meant to vote for? The Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems? We don’t have any decent political parties and we don’t have a democracy anymore.”
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Fiona voted for Brexit and she’s upset she hasn’t got it.”I don’t know who I’m going to vote for in these euro elections. Is there any point,” she asks.The lady making tea behind the counter, when asked for her views, turns and runs towards the kitchen. “I’m sick and tired of Brexit,” she says.Another lady sighs and shrugs her shoulders.”I will vote, of course I will, but I don’t know who for and I suspect it’s futile anyway,” she says.Here, there seems to be a crisis in the Conservative grassroots. A sense of shame at the way the senior figures in the party have handled Brexit.And that is certainly the case a few miles down the road, where Mid-Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham is holding a drop-in session for constituents.There’s a lot of talk about why Brexit hasn’t been delivered and she is under pressure to explain. But what’s interesting about this conversation is how stark and honest the MP is about her own party leader.”I think there is no doubt she Theresa May has to go and go very soon,” says Ms Latham, who voted for Brexit.
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It is not every day that an MP openly says this kind of thing. It is a rare moment.”History is being written, just not the history I would have wanted,” she adds.Sitting in the gathering is Colin McBride, a retired engineer who has voted Conservative all his life. “You won’t catch me voting Conservative. The way Theresa May has handled this is disgusting. It is undemocratic, it’s a scandal, it’s wrong.”He says he’s leaning towards Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party, and recent polls show he is not along.Afterwards I asked Pauline Latham if she is worried about her seat, in which she currently enjoys a health majority.”I am worried. But I fear that the damage is too great more broadly. I fear that we may be about to witness the demise of the Conservative party and that will be a great shame, but not entirely surprising given everything that’s happened.”Strong words, but in these these divided, fractured times, nothing is a surprise anymore.
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