Sunday, 7 January 2018

Fall Out

Fall Out
Fall Out: A Year of Political Mayhem is Tim Shipman's sequel to All Out War, his definitive account of the Brexit referendum. Fall Out covers the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the first stage of the European Union negotiations, and the disastrous 2017 general election. Shipman, political editor of The Sunday Times, is arguably the most well-connected political correspondent in the UK: his coverage of the Conservative government is as gripping as Andrew Rawnsley's accounts of the New Labour era (Servants of the People and The End of the Party). His off-the-record sources include thirteen cabinet ministers.

Chapter titles such as "Brexit Means Brexit" and "Strong and Stable" reveal how much Prime Minister Theresa May has relied on repeating brief, vague soundbites instead of fully explaining her policies. Shipman portrays her as a PM driven by personal conviction though out of her depth. May is the book's central figure, though Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, her joint chiefs of staff, are another major element of the drama: "This is a play with many actors, but overwhelmingly it is the story of those three people and how they took charge of the most complex political conundrum since the Second World War".

After the Tories lost their parliamentary majority, it was only the resignations of Timothy and Hill that prevented a party coup against May's leadership. Shipman's book reveals in some detail why the two chiefs were so disliked; their nickname for Chancellor Philip Hammond, for example, was "The Cunt". One source tells Shipman: "they would say things like, "You're a posh cunt," and "No, you're a posher cunt." "Who is the poshest cunt of the lot?" This is a conversation between Nick and Fi, and I looked across at the prime minister, thinking, "Do you think this is all right?" There was not a glimmer."

In the immediate aftermath of the election, everything was up in the air: "May's future as prime minister hung in the balance as cabinet ministers contacted each other". Cabinet members were all mutually suspicious, May most of all: "She called Boris Johnson and formally asked, 'Do you intend to stand against me?'" The Chancellor was equally paranoid: "Hammond put her on the spot: 'You were going to sack me, weren't you?'" Shipman writes that, although Grant Shapps' attempted coup was ultimately aborted, it had gathered steam following May's 2017 party conference speech: "One day after May's meltdown, three members of her cabinet decided her time was up."

Fall Out was published last November, and in that same month two cabinet ministers (Priti Patel and Michael Fallon) were forced to resign. Another, May's closest political ally (Damian Green), quit a month later. The fallout continues.

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