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In C4’s Brexit drama the Remainers are reasonable and the Leavers are loonies. Cripes, didn’t see that one coming!


WHEN the British political, media, legal, academic and arts classes were plunged into their long nervous breakdown on the morning of June 24, 2016, not much interrupted my laughter and merriment.

It was obvious that the Establishment would do anything, say anything, junk anything, to reverse the decision, and if such blatant tactics failed then Blairite statecraft would be the order of the day: solemnly promise to do what was asked while sedulously working to do the exact opposite. That was all blatantly obvious from 5am on that fateful day.

However, one thought did slow my chuckling and that was how mad Brexit would send the British culture industry, particularly the dramatic arts. I could well see Remainiac Left liberal luvvies queueing to tell the little people where they had gone wrong. I dare say most of it will come after our notional leave date.

However, Channel 4 has stuck its head above the parapet with Brexit: The Uncivil War, a feature-length film shown this week.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Dominic Cummings, the supposedly maverick strategist who ran the official Leave campaign. The role allows super luvvie – and Remainer – Cumberbatch to trot out his gifted-yet-strange boffin schtick once again.

Cummings sweeps away the conventional wisdom of parliamentary Brexiteers, who want the campaign run like a general election. He also refuses any truck with Ukip leader Nigel Farage and Arron Banks, who bankrolled the rival bid to run the Leave campaign. Cummings tells them it is unnecessary to concentrate on immigration because the votes of those motivated by the issue are already in the bag. This is in itself the conventional wisdom of PR: there will have been many people unaware of the sheer scale of future unsustainable immigration planned by the political and business classes in this country. How do I know this? Because most of my trade do not adequately report on it, and television news reporters practise an almost total omertà around the subject. Note how the media handles the terminally choked NHS: it is always asserting that escalating numbers of old people are the problem; the impact of vast immigration over the past 20 years and beyond is almost never mentioned.

With immigration ditched as a campaign tool, the film concentrates on the strategy that its writer, James Graham, 36, evidently thinks is the real story behind why Leave won: data mining, the targeting of voters with tailored advertising based on their social media activity. I groaned slightly at this point because one of the upshots of the British Establishment’s aforementioned nervous breakdown has been to blame the result on digital gerrymandering. Despite the best efforts of the Observer to shore up this theory, there has not even been much smoke never mind fire to be seen. Besides which, when the Barack Obama campaign used data mining the liberal Left were rather happy clappy about it.

The real trigger factor for the Brexit imbroglio was of course the deliberately spiteful immigration policies of Tony Blair’s ultra pro-EU New Labour governments and the failure of subsequent Tory administrations to do anything about it because it suited big business’s agenda. The political class’s toxic mix of globalism, irresponsible capitalism and neo-Marxism angered and alienated an awful lot of people in Britain and they took their revenge in 2016. It was a slow train coming but it arrived and all the special advisers and spin doctors and money that both sides threw at it could not stop it.

None of that ever came up in the film. While arch-europhile and Remainer Peter Mandelson cropped up in the narrative, Tony Blair’s name was conspicuous by occurring only once, in a high-speed montage at the start.

A similar result to Brexit happened in the US after Obama baited the public for eight years with the globalist playbook. Liberals were left with snot and tears and paranoid fantasies about Russia when the public opted for Trump instead of Hillary. As in most other areas they turned their backs on empirical reality.

Cumberbatch recently told the Independent that the film ‘is not about how to solve it or what went wrong or right, it’s just about how those moments occurred. It doesn’t lecture. It’s not censorious, and it’s certainly not didactic’.

That is not quite true.

There is a flash forward to 2020 with Cummings close to meltdown when being grilled by an unspecified committee chaired by an American woman: a negative judgment on the Brexit referendum delivered in plain sight.

The film uses the characters from the Remain campaign team – who, unlike the Leavers, are presented as normal and reasonable and not batty freaks – to become ‘the conscience’ of the story to prod viewers in the direction of the views its makers almost certainly hold: that it was wrong to have the vote in the first place and so ipso facto Britain is better off in. That is, contrary to Cumberbatch, a lecture of sorts albeit one implicitly made. Then there is the decision to introduce the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox into the narrative. Days before the referendum Mrs Cox was shot and stabbed to death in her constituency of Batley and Spen, West Yorkshire, by Thomas Mair, a neo-Nazi with a history of mental problems.

Graham clearly believes that distressing episode was connected to the campaign. A female ex-BBC Remain strategist cries when the news of the murder breaks and Cummings retreats to a broom cupboard he uses as a sanctum sanctorum, there to stare into space. The implication is that there is some measure of guilt hanging over the campaign. A better writer would have interrogated this notion through dialogue. Graham doesn’t, perhaps because his implication might not have survived the grilling with the certainty Graham wants.

In the film Cummings meets Craig Oliver (Rory Kinnear), his opposite number in the Remain campaign, a few days after the killing. Once again, Remain characters are allowed to be the conscience of the piece, again undermining the makers’ claims of objectivity. Oliver opines that the referendum will unleash forces nobody in either side will be able to stop. ‘Like a taste for meaningful democracy,’ I said at the television set. Cummings counters this by saying the political class have ignored the public for decades. However, Remain are allowed to *appear* to have the best of the arguments. The £350million NHS battle bus is presented as the first fib ever told in politics. Laughable after two decades of poisonous spin from both morally bankrupt main parties.

Likewise Graham cannot bring himself to give a shred of credibility to the Ukip side of the argument. That is clearly beyond the pale to him. Banks and Farage are written and played contemptuously as cartoon boors – almost all Brexiteers in the film are presented as unseemly oddballs – and the reasons for the ascendancy of the party largely go unexplored. At the end Cummings sees Farage on the TV and calls him a c***. This appears contradictory to Cummings’s character. He is fixated on delivering massive change to the political landscape, but the only reason he is leading the Leave campaign is because there was a referendum and it was Farage’s Ukip, which amounted to Farage himself, that pushed David Cameron to giving the public a vote by threatening grassroots Tory support. So who really was the game-changer, and would not strategy mastermind Cummings have realised this?

Despite these criticisms, Brexit: The Uncivil War is watchable and well directed. The febrile days of 2016 are brought back to life with ironic and barnstorming use of Beethoven’s Ninth, the EU’s chosen anthem.

But the film is also further evidence, if more were needed, that the British media is still in denial about what really caused Britain to vote Leave.

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Robert James
Robert James
Robert James is a national newspaper journalist.

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