Don’t even think about a compromise
A rush to chronicle Brexit led to conspiracy theories – and decent jokes. By Asa Bennett
Westminster has been consumed by the twists and turns of the Brexit process this year, and it dominated the new political books, too. The best had to be Robert Saunders’s
Yes to Europe! The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain
(CUP, £24.99), which looks at the 2016 vote through the prism of Britain’s earlier decision to remain in the European Club by 67.2 per cent to 32.8 per cent.
After the result, a jubilant Neil Kinnock said: “Only an idiot would ignore or resent a majority like this. We’re in forever.” If David Cameron had taken more tips from Harold Wilson’s handling of that earlier referendum (in his renegotiation, he pursued practical, rather than ideological, concessions, and stayed above the fray to help hold his party together), Kinnock might not have been proven so emphatically wrong two years ago.
Other books offered intellectual catnip for Remainers, such as Michael Kenny and Nick Pearce’s
Books, £50), which argues that the Brexit vote was the result of Right-wingers exploiting imperial nostalgia. This leads them loftily to conclude that trying to replace the EU with the Commonwealth is doomed to failure, which is a sadly reductive take on the “Global Britain” envisaged by Brexiteers. More insightful was Steve Buckledee’s fittingly succinct
(Bloomsbury, £55), which explains how the emotive language used by Brexiteers in 2016 overpowered the Remainers’ rhetorical hedging.
Politicians continue to campaign in prose, with Andrew Adonis teaming up with fellow Remoaner a “badger” because of a white streak in his hair.
Many readers will want to tear their own hair out over how politicians have handled things this year. Isabel Hardman’s riveting
Shadows of Empire The Language of Brexit Why We Get the Wrong Politicians
(Atlantic, £18.99) explains the obstacles that dissuade potentially brilliant MPs from standing, and leave us with a political class that often meets our lowest expectations. She doesn’t hold back on criticisms, but she also gives very sensible ideas for reform. Here’s hoping lots of MPs get it in their Christmas stocking. A standout among recent Young Adult books about the First World War is this beautifully unravelled family saga about three cousins. (Macmillan)
by Hilary McKay
COUNT ME OUTBarbara Castle campaigns to exit Europe in 1975