For the last four weeks [Tuesday June 21- July 19] the political news in the UK has been changing so quickly that drafts of an unpublished post became outdated at least four times. Publication was then hindered for technical reasons. I have attempted to make some retrspective sense out of my unposted notes
23 June, Referendum day
The build-up to the result was captured in a post written as the nation hastened to the polling stations
The polls continued to show a close finish, although pollsters had become prudent enough to stress the difficulties of predicting such an unusual event.
23 June, Referendum night
The harbinger that something monumental was breaking took place when the few voting results of the 382 counts arrived around midnight. I was flicking through various media treatments. The BBC had dug into its depleted budget to put on an old-fashioned big-event show (think Sports Personality of the year combined with the finals night to Strictly Come dancing).
Jeremy Vine’s magical mystery engine was a garish fluorescent display of ever-changing barcharts. on enormous Panoramic screens. Vine is heir to the manic Jon Snow [now shunted off into an even more eccentric show about train-spotting, which was screened later in this story, on the day we learned Theresa May was to become Prime Minister.]
The heavyweight anchor for the BBC was David Dimbleby (who else) with cohorts of pop-up politicos, experts, and assorted insomniacs. But for all the clunkiness of the display, Vine’s stats were the surprise stars of the shows. Experts had been airily dismissed during the campaign. But this was payback time. Leading psephologist John Curtice talked with more authority than the barrowfuls of expert-deniers we had suffered in the nightly hustings.
At around 1 am, the outcome was pretty clear, although the celebrity presenters clung to the implausible line that there are too many uncertainties to call it. The vote would be a win, a close but inexorable one for Brexit. And so the first great tremor announced itself.
I tried to sleep, accepting the inevitable, using a muffled radio from time to time to reduce irritation around the household. The news hardly faltered. Neither did the commentators, especially MPs who insisted it was still all too close to call.
24 June: After the ball
By early morning there were no longer doubts. A curious mingling of joy and dismay was being reported. A tearful Brexit activist wept tears of exhausted happiness, even though she been woken up and set-up by the TV cameras.
Later in the day, I stumbled upon distraught little groups of Remainers discussing what they saw as a manipulated victory, although I encountered little triumphalism from Brexiters during my morning shopping (‘Never discuss politics, religion, or football’, said Neil at the Butchers, quoting what he had learned from his father).
Within hours, the first of the after-shocks. The Prime-Minister, retaining some of his customary calm, announces that he was stepping down. This was his famous ‘let the S***s sort it out‘ message. But who would replace him? In pole position, Boris Johnson.
The pound plunges but recovers to a loss of 8% later in the day. The events only partly mask the battles within the Parliamentary Labour party to jettison its leader Jeremy Corbyn.
I can’t find any notes I made over the weekend. Sport takes over. Everyone wants a break from politics, the calm before the storm. Wimbledon starts, and the BBC re-discovers its two-week love-in and affection for tennis
Boris went off to play cricket with Princess Diana’s brother rather than visibly knuckling down. Then he held what was widely described as a confused press conference during which he failed to reveal any coherent plan for what came next:
When he did choose to set out his thinking it was not in a speech to the nation but in his own highly lucrative column for Monday’s Daily Telegraph – and what a muddled column it was
…To make matters worse, when angry Tory leavers started asking what the hell was going on, the response from the Boris camp was confusion. Boris, we were told, had been “tired” when he wrote the column, so maybe it wasn’t phrased right.
Boris had lost favour with the most fervent backers of Brexit, the owners of the Daily Mail and Sun newspapers.
A leaked letter from Daily Mail Journalist Sarah Vine to her husband and a leading Brexiteer Michael Gove casts doubt on the reliability of Boris and Michael as a dream team for replacing David Cameron and George Osborne. The letter was later to take on more significance.
Theresa May announces herself as a candidate to replace David Cameron and ‘unite the country’. Much discussion about the rise of strong women leaders to clear up the mess left behind by male politicians (Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Nicola Sturgeon, now Theresa May, inevitably written about as heir to Margaret Thatcher, however glib the comparison).
Stephen Crabbe and Liam Fox are also preparing to enter the contest with Theresa May. The drama is only half-way into the first act.
To be continued