Rod Liddle has taken a huge gamble with this book. It could be out of date very soon. The book’s premise is a conversation he had with his wife on the day after the Brexit vote in 2016. She, like Liddle, is a Brexiteer and said to him that morning, ‘They won’t let it happen.’ Liddle agreed. ‘Betcha we don’t leave,’ he said. And that is the book’s principal argument: we’ll never leave the EU.
The Great Betrayal was published in July and, so far, Liddle is right. But what about on 1 November: will this book be massively outdated and will Britain be out of the European Union? It’s anyone’s guess.
Even now, quite a few of the references in the book are dated. It was published before Boris Johnson became Prime Minister. And already Theresa May’s doomed premiership, which features prominently here, seems light years away.
Still the book is very engaging. Liddle is, just as in his Spectator column, a lovely, easy-going writer. So many experts write about Brexit in Mogadon-Latinate prose; Liddle has the light touch and is fantastically rude in an ad hominem — and ad mulierem — way.
He talks about the heavyset David Aaronovitch being ‘trapped in his bubble. His very big bubble.’ Will Straw, executive director of the Remain campaign, is called ‘reliably useless’. We come across the ‘over-remunerated, crisp-flogging dimbo, Lineker’. Jeremy Corbyn is ‘an appealing hybrid of Catweazle, Chauncey Gardiner and Vladimir Lenin’. Liddle compares the Guardian columnist Owen Jones to Squealer, the fat pig who is minister for propaganda in Animal Farm. As for Diane Abbott, he simply calls her stupid, stupid, stupid…
If you’re a fan of the Liddle school of political invective, you’ll love this book. He has an original insight because he’s a million miles away from the traditional media/political Brexiteer. Comprehensive school-educated, historically Labour-voting and from Middlesbrough, Liddle shares little with Jacob Rees-Mogg except his Brexit leanings. Having said that, Liddle is so incensed with Jeremy Corbyn that in 2017 he was on the verge of voting Tory for the first time before he was turned off by Theresa May’s car-crash manifesto, not least the pledge to legalise hunting. Liddle is keen on animal rights.
His other main theme is how Brexiteers have been classed as ‘the decrepit moron leave voter’. He makes careful studies of the statistics on how people voted and shares the idea in David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere. That book divided voters into Somewheres and Anywheres. Somewheres, who tended to vote Leave, are rooted to their communities and feel a sense of place and belonging. Anywheres, who tended to vote Remain, are rootless and unencumbered by history, according to the theory.
In Liddle’s native Teesside, he discovered that the theory held true. Everyone who had left Teesside and made lives for themselves elsewhere voted Remain. And those who had stayed on Teesside voted Leave. This was the case even if the people who left had miserable, impecunious lives or the people who stayed got degrees from good universities and made a fortune.
Liddle is by no means universally complimentary about Brexiteers. He thinks the £350 million on the side of the bus campaign was a gross distortion. But still he thinks the Leave campaign was better run than the useless Remain campaign. He also castigates the Leavers for their appalling lack of preparation for government after the referendum.
So what now? Liddle says his friends in the north-east are now sceptical about voting at all. They say, ‘What is the point? We did vote and look what happened.’ The fundamental problem, he says, is that the public voted by a smallish majority to leave the EU, while in every major party the majority of MPs are in favour of remaining, except in the DUP.
So there’s a vast tranche of voters whose views are simply unrepresented. Liddle extends that mismatch to a general battle between the Somewheres and the liberal elite. He thinks that between 30 and 45 per cent of the electorate have no representation any more.
They are a mixture of the northern working-class, One Nation Tories, the elderly, the affluent, the poor, the left behind and the go-ahead. The old left-right axis — ‘a throwback to the French Revolution, for God’s sake’ — doesn’t apply any more. There are people who agree with some of John McDonnell’s economic strategies and yet agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg on social issues.
Liddle’s solution is for parties to become more like the SNP — a populist party whose recent success has been based on offering voters a sense of place, history, tradition and belonging, and an opposition to being ruled from afar. On top of this, Liddle proposes a dose of proportional representation.
None of this looks like happening any time soon. For the moment, Liddle’s book isn’t yet outdated in its central premise: we haven’t left and our political structure is in an almighty mess.