All Out War


Tim Shipman, William Collins, 630 pages, $31.50. Tim Shipman, political editor of the Sunday Times, has in a remarkably short time produced a story that is thorough, comprehensive and utterly gripping. It is hard to imagine a better first draft of history. Partly because they expected to win easily, former Prime Minister David Cameron and the Remainers made tactical mistakes. These included accepting a pre-vote period of official government “purdah.” In the campaign itself, Cameron’s team relied heavily on what became tarred as “Project Fear.” With gloomy forecasts of lost income, output and jobs, there was little effort to put out a positive message about the European Union or to defend immigration, Leavers’ key weapon. The main Vote Leave campaign also made mistakes — for example, failing to answer the economic argument, outlining clear alternatives to membership, a focus on immigration that made them seem nasty. But they were helped by political rifts and the rising anti-elite, anti-London and anti-globalization mood of many voters, especially in the Midlands and north. Those who feel they were left behind after the financial crisis have turned to populists in many countries (including to Donald Trump in America). In the Brexit referendum, they voted in unexpectedly large numbers. Also Cameron had postured with the E.U. in the past, making him seem unconvincing when trying to argue how the membership was so vital to Britain’s economy. This same legacy could now make it trickier for Prime Minister Theresa May to persuade voters to accept a soft Brexit.