What did you get for Christmas? This year my Europhile friends and family went out of their way to show their disapproval of my political views and bought me Brexit books…Owen Bennett’s The Brexit Club, All Out War by Tim Shipman, and Five on Brexit Island by Enid Blyton (a spoof version by Bruno Vincent).
I recommend the Owen Bennett. It is a page turning racy read. My Christmas present paperback of The Brexit Club was picked up and finished by a friend who was staying overnight and my battered copy has already disappeared (Jonny, I want it back!). Bennett describes in fascinating detail the infighting between Vote Leave and Leave.EU. The book title is misleading; this was not a ‘club’, but a fight to the finish. Bennett made me warm to Nigel Farage… a man with a clear mission and in touch with real people when compared with the dastardly Dominic Cummings running Vote Leave. You couldn’t make it up – Cummings is portrayed as snarling nightmare of a man. Not only is the book a story of pumped up male rivalry but it also contains lots of juicy political details – how Douglas Carswell had wanted to de-toxify Ukip by taking over the leadership from Nigel Farage; how important Nigel’s grassroots movement became in gathering the Northern Labour votes that brought victory to us Brexiteers.
Tim Shipman is more sedate. In All Out War he has a longer story to tell. He starts with Cameron and his aim to unite the Conservatives by shutting up the Eurosceptics once and for all. As the book progressed, I came to admire the discretion of George Osborne who had never wanted a referendum and argued strongly against it while staying loyal to his Prime Minister. Shipman reveals the finer points of the Labour Remain campaign that are missing in the Bennett book…respectable but dull Will Straw holding together the Stronger in Europe team, tearing his hair out because Jeremy Corbyn refused to work with a cross party coalition….charming Alan Johnson, chairing the Labour Party’s ‘Labour In For Britain’ campaign but never able to persuade Corbyn even to put a quote on a Remain press release. Instead, Johnson has a meeting with Corbyn and discusses how to write a best-selling autobiography. You couldn’t make it up.
Five on Brexit Island is only a joke if you remember Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures. Unlike the others, this Brexit book is fiction and not as exciting as the real life stories. George calls a referendum to assert Kirrin Island’s independence. Julian has put on weight and ruffles his blonde hair like Boris. Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny row to the island with sandwiches and lashings of ginger pop. Transgender George is a surprisingly modern character. Of the three Brexit books, it is Five on Brexit Island that shows the women at their strongest.
Where were the women in the referendum? The expert pollsters provide evidence that firm Remainers and determined Leavers are not going to change their minds. The campaigners know that the women in the middle- ground that are ready to be persuaded. But the story of the referendum campaign is a story of men behaving badly. They meet in seedy Westminster pubs, they drink and send rude texts, and they plan coups against the men on their own side. The men all want to be top dog, like Timmy (the dog in Five on Brexit Island), they all want the sausages and they don’t want to share. The women are ‘used’ for the TV debates… the Remain women are brought on together to try and sink Boris, but they are not part of the core action. And the men, well they use their old-boy connections – Boris and Gove’s Oxford friendship, Craig Oliver’s close connection with the head honchos at BBC and ITV news, Nigel’s relationship with Arron Banks that provides the money and freedom for his campaign.
The heroine of the campaign has to be quietly spoken widow Gisela Stuart. She is German and has been a trenchant critic of Europe since representing the UK Parliament at the European Convention. Stuart doesn’t push herself forward but has to be persuaded to chair Vote Leave by Nigel Lawson, who was a friend of her husband and supported her after his death. The men wanted her as chair because they needed a Labour spokesperson to balance Michael Gove. She is clearly sensible and straightforward. She is now Chair of Vote Leave’s successor organisation, Change Britain. It is in a pair of safe hands that won’t be shouting, planning coups, or sending drunken press releases after midnight.