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Preliminary Results: Main Parties In U.K. Election Hit By Brexit Backlash


Many people in the U.K. are furious about the political paralysis over Brexit. Yesterday, for the first time, they had a chance to express themselves at the ballot box in local elections in England and Northern Ireland. Results are still coming in, but Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party has already lost big. And Labour, the main opposition party, also had a disappointing night. NPR's Frank Langfitt travelled around England yesterday talking to voters and joins us now. Frank, what's the message these voters are sending?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: I think, Rachel, it's very clear. The political system, from their perspective down here in London, has failed them. To varying degrees, they're blaming both parties. You've got to remember it's been almost three years since the referendum, and the U.K.'s still inside the EU. There's no resolution. Many Conservative voters who backed Brexit - they feel completely betrayed. I was up in Werrington - it's about a hundred miles north of London - yesterday. I met a woman named Angie Jinks. She's a gardener. This is how she put it, Rachel.

ANGIE JINKS: I am so disillusioned with our government at the moment. I feel like they've been complete traitors.

LANGFITT: When you say traitors - traitors to what?

JINKS: To their electorate. We go out and vote. And what the government are doing at the moment is completely disregarding what the people voted for them to do.

MARTIN: Wow. So Frank, if the two major parties did badly in these elections, who did well?

LANGFITT: The Liberal Democrats did really, really well. They're actually a small - very small party in Parliament. They were big winners yesterday and - unlike Labour and the Conservatives, who were split over what to do about Brexit, which is why everything is bogged down here in London. The Liberal Democrats - they want to stay in the EU. They want a second Brexit referendum. They have a very clear vision for the voters and what they want to do.

MARTIN: What other conversations stood out to you as you were reporting?

LANGFITT: You know, I was up in Cambridge, and that's a very pro-EU city. It's home to, of course, the world-famous university. And one thing that came up - and this has come up before - is frustration that Brexit has just sucked up all the political oxygen over the last three years and left little time to address other issues - things like, you know, providing services to the elderly amid lots of budget cuts here with local governments. I was - met a guy named Ben Szreter (ph). He's 24. He works for a charity in the city, and this was his take.

BEN SZRETER: The real, real tragedy over the last couple of years will be the opportunity cost of what hasn't been done to improve society with all the legislation that could have happened. And focusing on one issue, such as Brexit, for so long will have really damaged this country.

MARTIN: I mean, we should just say we don't often cover local elections in the U.K., right?

LANGFITT: And actually, Rachel, to think about it, when I came here three years ago, I never imagined that you and I would be discussing local elections.

MARTIN: But they matter. There are bigger implications going forward.

LANGFITT: Yeah, absolutely. And in fact, what this is really is a warning sign to major parties because we have more elections to come here. In this kind of surreal twist, in a couple of weeks or so, it looks like the U.K. will actually hold elections for the European Parliament. Remember, they tried to leave the EU. They failed, so they actually have to vote people in to the European Parliament...

MARTIN: Right.

LANGFITT: ...Probably towards the end of this month. Conservatives now are doing very poorly in that. They're in third place. The party out in front is the Brexit party, which was just founded a few weeks ago. Many people expect later this year, the U.K. will hold a general election. There's a risk that the Conservatives could be toppled, so we're in for a lot more of these kind of votes, probably.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt. We appreciate it.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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