Toby Young Toby Young

A good read… but I don’t buy the plot

Craig Oliver's referendum diary is an entertaining read, but its central thesis is unconvincing

I’m writing this from the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham where the mood is buoyant, to put it mildly. Everyone seems delighted with the new captain and completely unfazed by the perilous waters ahead. If anyone is sad about the demise of David Cameron and some of his key lieutenants they’re not letting on. It’s a case of Le roi est mort, vive le roi!

In my spare time I’ve been reading Craig Oliver’s referendum diary, Unleashing Demons, and reflecting on the events that led to Cameron’s demise. As a Remainer, Oliver is in no doubt about why his side lost: the mendacity of the Leave campaign. His lot were honourable men, constrained by the facts and their human-decency, while the other lot were despicable liars for whom no blow was too low. And the book has a villain, someone who embodies the immorality of his opponents. No, not Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson, neither of whom he takes particularly seriously. But Michael Gove. It is Gove wot won it, according to Oliver. He regards him as a sort of evil genius, lacing the Leave campaign with a combination of-‘brilliance and-poison’ that bewitched the British public. He is the demon that the-referendum unleashed.

Exhibit A in Oliver’s case is the assurance Sarah Vine supposedly gave to Cameron when the Goves were staying at Chequers last Christmas that Michael wouldn’t break ranks. He mentions this at least half a dozen times in the book, clearly regarding it as the height of dishonesty. Sarah, whom Oliver portrays as a Lady Macbeth figure, denies this, claiming she was deliberately vague when the subject came up in conversation. According to her, she may have said nothing to prevent Cameron jumping to the conclusion he did, but was careful not to say anything that could lead to subsequent accusations of deception.

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