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…end up far more like Singapore… April 16, 2018

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Been reading Craig Oliver’s Unleashing Demons, a book on Brexit from inside the Remain Tory camp. Oliver was Director of Politics and Communication for David Cameron. It’s an interesting read, though I think that Andrew Rawnsley’s review here is broadly correct – at least in the lessons he draws from it.

For what comes across is what a bunch of indolent fools the Tory Remain crew were. Cameron in particular seems utterly detached from the realities of the forces he had, if not created, certainly was largely responsible for giving the opportunity to go for the win. And as Rawnsley said, for Cameron to hold a referendum in such unpropitious times and with no preparation or real forethought was near criminal. And that is before one factors in his absurd non-‘deal’ with the EU.

At one point Oliver who comes across as a decent character writes ‘The acronym used by Lynton Crosby’s business partner, Mark Textor, rattles through my brain – TTFU. Toughen the Fuck Up. On a practical level, it’s great advice. Swallow it – get on with it. But increasingly I feel days like these are corrosive, stopping anything like a balanced life.’

Uh-huh? Some of us will be surprised that he felt a ‘balanced’ life was anywhere near achievable in the context of perhaps the most important vote taken in the UK in at least two generations.

Then there’s a number of depressing insights into how transfixed by the deficit and how antagonistic to public expenditure the Cameron/Osborne axis were – granted with a right-wing media egging them on, and how now hardly a year and a half later no one appears to care a whit about it. What is particularly dispiriting is that Oliver doesn’t seem to realise how the deficit issue was in many many respects utterly manufactured (much as a similar dynamic was evident in the US pre-Trump) to be picked up and put down to attack first Labour, then demand the Cameron government(s) push a particularly right wing expenditure line and slashing of the state and then thrown away when Brexit came to the fore. That Osborne and Cameron believed it so sincerely suggests remarkable capacities for self-delusion on their parts.

But there’s more. A telling quote appears in the early pages of the book…

An MP who is an old friend has a cup of tea with me. He says most Tory backbenchers are hating every second of this. They’ve traded on Euroscepticism for years and now they are standing on the edge of a precipice, they’re realising they should have been careful what they wished for.

Reap what you sow.

There’s a couple of lines though that offer an insight into one cohort in the Tory party, at least pre-referendum..

Although Gove was praised by many for being an intellectual, I struggled to see how al the positions he had taken hung together. A man who presented himself as a modernising liberal could also appear to be a reactionary. In a paper entitled ‘Northern Ireland, the Price of Peace’, he claimed the GFA was a capitulation to the IRA; and in a newspaper column he argued in favour of the death penalty, writing that for there too be fair trials, they needed to be held under the ‘shadow of the noose’.

The unlovable Zac Goldsmith is given a good working over – his euroscepticism appears to be utterly cosmetic and shaped by the London Mayoral campaign (‘Zac cares deeply about being elected Mayor, but here’s something about the combination of his good looks, easy-going manner and the way he sucks on an electronic cigarette that makes him seem indifferent’).

And later the political shape of the Brexit proponents is noted…

Various hopes that Gove will go for In are entirely misplaced. Many arguments have been tried on him, indulging the fact that there will be real damage to the economy. Confronted with that, he accepted there will be ‘scarring and burning’ but we will emerge from that situation and end up far more like Singapore.

But in fairness to Oliver he does paint a picture of just how bizarre and deceitful the campaign was as well as offering a salutary rejoinder to the stuff about ‘project fear’ noting that the Brexit side was quite comfortable to propagate (IDS warning of ‘Paris-style terrorist attacks’ if the UK remained; Patel talking about UK citizens being on the Titanic heading for the iceberg; Johnson describing the UK being a frog in a slowly boiling pan of water; Farage stating the NHS would be privatised if the UK remained, etcetera).

And if the book is full to the brim with lists and notes and so on, well, perhaps that offers an insight into how Director’s of Politics and Communication roll. Unlike Rawnsley I found it readable, even if – obviously partial.

This in the FT is a bit more sympathetic. A bit. But it notes that:

Most tellingly, Cameron’s complacency is laid bare in his refusal to allow blue-on-blue attacks. One of the Stronger In team comes up with a good attack on Boris Johnson’s hypocrisy but Cameron vetoes it. Peter Mandelson asks why the campaign doesn’t nail Johnson and Gove in a meeting with George Osborne but Oliver parries it away. Even when Gove makes the grotesque claim that millions of Turks are about to arrive in the UK via future EU membership, Number 10 still refuses to criticise him directly. One of the highlights of the TV debates is an attack by Amber Rudd, my sister, on Boris, which Oliver allows and goes down a storm. Oliver is finally persuaded to run posters showing Johnson in the pocket of the then Ukip leader Nigel Farage but changes his mind, not wanting to unleash the dogs of war in the Conservative party. It was one of the great missed opportunities of the campaign.

It’s as if either they didn’t care about winning, or didn’t understand the import of what they were engaged in. Either way – disastrous.


1. dublinstreams - April 16, 2018

Had Cameron decided he already lost well before the start of the campaign?


WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2018

Yeah, that’s a key question. Don’t think so is the answer. At least not to judge from the account in the book. I think that that possibility became apparent during the campaign. And even at the end on the day of the referendum and evening of the result the core crew seemed to believe that they’d pulled it off.


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