All Out War as we trigger Article 50


I have recently finished All Out War by Tim Shipman. I thought that Article 50 Eve might be a good time to ruminate on it.

It’s a well written book. Though it’s very long it is as a result of being thorough rather than ponderous. The key players are pretty well drawn and you get a sense of their character even when you get the feeling the author would prefer you didn’t (for example, no matter how hard the author genuinely tries not to let it show, it is quite clear that Michael Gove is a cast iron shit).

What your take away on the individuals is will largely be based on where you stand on the leave/remain axis. For example, is Dominic Cummings a daring maverick who leaves it all on the field or a frightening ideologue willing to invoke some very nasty tactics to win the battle. Your vote, your decision.

For me the key takeaway from the book is that politicians overvalue unity at a cost. It was such a given that it was an embarrassment that the Leave camp was split between the more mainstream Vote Leave and the fringe Leave.EU that little was thought about the benefits of two leave campaigns reaching two different but vital sections of their audience.

Leave.EU could and did say things the official campaign found distasteful if helpful. Vote Leave wanted to keep the fight on immigration without pushing the boundaries of taste *too* far. Leave.EU expanded what those boundaries were by smashing through them from the right.

With three campaigns that inevitably made Vote Leave (a campaign that might have been considered quite right wing in some of its actions and imagery) occupying the centre ground between The “nutters and fruitcake” brigade and the establishment position of remain. That legitimised their campaign just enough to allow people to vote leave without having to think of themselves as the leave.EU type. Leaving Leav.EU to appeal to people who haven’t turned out in decades precisely because the political centre ground — expansive as it can be — has never appealed to them.

Having two campaigns warring over their messages almost sidelined the messages of the remain campaign. Remain stuck relentlessly to the economic risk message but it got increasingly less interesting for the press to cover. Much coverage was then seen through the lens of internal Tory politics. The leaders of the Campaign, like Will Straw, never seemed to fully wrest control away from Cameron and Osborne, and Cameron and Osborne never threw everything they could at the campaign, ironically — given what happened — in sacrifice to Tory unity. They wouldn’t go after Johnson and Gove properly and as such the easy pomposity of Leave’s biggest beasts was never really pricked until they decided to gore each other at the end.

For those of us who believe that Brexit was a terrible decision that will lead to poor consequences this is a hard book to read. It shows how we were bested and not necessarily by the best. But it is an essential piece of reading for anyone interested in how we got where we are. It will be especially important to learn the lessons outlined here before we go through another referendum in Scotland.