Large 16.12.17

Tim Shipman’s new book, Fall Out, follows on from his previous account of the referendum campaign. This new work picks up where All Out War ended, offering us the inside story on a year of political mayhem – right up to  Theresa May’s difficult speech at the Conservative Party Conference in October.

Shipman describes the usual in-fighting, delusion, incompetence and betrayal, but what makes this book stands out is his conscientiousness in presenting both sides: when criticising one or other player he will provide the case for the defence.

The plots to unseat May are laid out in full. According to Shipman, Boris Johnson began receiving texts from colleagues at about 4am on election night, including from Philip Hammond, the chancellor. In one account, the Foreign Secretary tells an aide: “Philip’s just texted me. He’s 100 per cent behind me if I go for it”, while in another Amber Rudd encouraged Tory rebels to keep pressing for parliament to have a say over Brexit. If true, she’s now got her way.

We are also provided with a healthy dose of Westminster gossip to keep us entertained. One source describes to Shipman the “hideous flirting thing” between May and David Davis when she appointed him Brexit secretary, while another explains in detail Fiona Hill’s arrogance and bizarrely negligent approach to communications. “We don’t feed the beast”, says Hill.

It is a book of clear detail, fluent writing and sets out what is essentially an excruciating story of weakness, floundering around and above all poor personal behaviour. Politics is a rough business, a really rough business. It is the arena where people with competing views, ideas and visions come together, collide, and seek to persuade the rest of us to trust them with running our country. That does not mean that the participants should not treat each other, and those they work with, with a degree of civility and respect.

The story told here however is, to say the least of it, unedifying. If trust and respect in politics and politicians is in any measure to be improved then the lengths people are willing, and are permitted, to go to is to some degree going to have to be moderated and reigned in.

It is not simply the chronicle of what happened, but a story of our times. Gone are the days when our leaders can hide in No 10 or behind their Press Secretary. Social media and instant communication requires and demands our leaders to be visible and accountable. Ill thought out policies or personalities who find the public arena uncomfortable will find themselves tested like never before.

I first met Tim when we both worked at the Express, him on the Daily and me on the Sunday. Even then as a young reporter, it was clear to me then he was destined for great things. Highly intelligent and already possessing that easy friendly manner which lulls those he talks to into a false sense of security, he was always going to be a successful political journalist. Barely into his mid-forties he has held down two of the most difficult jobs in political journalism, Deputy Political Editor at the Daily Mail and Political Editor of the Sunday Times. Now he has two substantial political books to his credit with Fall Out joining All Out War as essential reading about the modern era of British politics.

Shipman’s book is a compelling read, authoritative and detailed.  It will, or it should, give many at Westminster pause for thought and for reflection.

Mark square bw