Saturday, January 07, 2017

Review of "All Out War" by Tim Shipman

In between political campaigning in Copeland - we are not formally in election mode yet because Jamie Reed has not actually resigned and triggered the by-election, which he has said he will do at the end of January, but you would hardly know that from the amount of campaign activity - I have been reading Tim Shipman's book about the EU referendum,

"All Out War: how Brexit sank Britain's Political Class."

This immensely readable and very well informed account of the referendum campaign has been described as "the first draft of history" and I suspect it will be an essential first source for future historians for as long as there are historians to whom the history of 21st century Britain is important.

I strongly recommend this book.

One can't help getting the impression from reading this book that "Shippers" who is the Political Editor of the Sunday Times has quite a lot of personal empathy for many of the key figures on all sides of the campaign and managed to get access to and perspectives from virtually all the important players. However, he does not spare any of them from scrutiny of the extraordinary errors all sides made.

I write "all sides" rather than "both sides" because there were in practice many more than the two sides you might have expected: because both "Leave" and "Remain" were coalitions of rival forces which at certain stages, as this book very effectively documents, were directing their fire at rival factions supporting the same outcome rather than against those who wanted a different one.

For anyone who is a partisan supporter of any of the factions in this story and who reads it hoping to find an analysis he or she agrees with, there are very likely to be things which will infuriate you. Although Tim Shipman says that his use of the term "Paleosceptics" to describe certain opponents of the EU merely means that they had been opposed to British membership for a long time, I am not sure it comes over like that.

He says other things which will be equally annoying to other tribes of outer, to Cameroons and to other groups of remainers.

Reading his detailed and unsparing account of the vicious battles between the rival "out" organisations, which often made a chimp's tea party look well-behaved and mature, you wonder how on earth such a disparate group of feuding factions could possibly have won and succeeded in changing the direction of this great nation.

However, when you read the sections of the book about the Remain campaign and the things which went wrong for them, you wonder how on earth Remain came as close to winning as to get 48% of the vote.

And my answer to that question is that it wasn't actually either of the campaigns which ultimately decided which way the country should go, but the people of Britain.

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