The Socialist 16 January 2019 |
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TV - Brexit: The Uncivil War
Interesting but inaccurate portrayal of the EU referendum
Brexit: The Uncivil War, photo House Productions (Click to enlarge)
Ben Robinson, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
Channel 4's 'Brexit: The Uncivil War' is an interesting contribution to how the EU referendum campaign is viewed.
It concentrates on the official right-wing Vote Leave campaign and its director, Dominic Cummings. This narrow focus means there is an overwhelming emphasis on the inner workings of the leadership, with little attempt to understand what really drove people to vote Leave.
David Cameron is only portrayed at the end of a phone call, Corbyn is mentioned in passing - a reference to his 'Bennite' historic opposition to the EU - and even when working-class people are present, they tend to simply provide a foil for the main actors.
This is 'House of Cards' analysis, not 'Our Friends in the North'.
However, this portrayal of the referendum campaign is interesting in how it differs from the narrative that has been established so far.
Farage and Banks are portrayed as sad figures on the sidelines, useful idiots for Vote Leave who concentrate on racist rhetoric, allowing Cummings and co to keep their hands relatively clean.
Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are frontmen who need to be carefully shepherded.
At the heart of this drama is Cummings, presented as a maverick intellectual and rebel against the establishment, who views politicians as a necessary evil.
In a sense, the drama comes from his struggle to sum up the campaign in a slogan. 'Take back control' is first mentioned in the final third of the drama, and the struggle to boil down their message to one slogan holds the whole thing together.
The main Remain campaign is very clearly the establishment, offering politics as usual, and in a very shallow sense that is the reason given for its ultimate defeat.
None of this is to say, however, that it is an accurate portrayal, or even a good drama. There are definitely moments where it slips into self-parody.
There is probably fully five minutes of the 93-minute production which is just Cummings staring angrily at the Houses of Parliament.
A balloon sadly deflating in the Remain campaign HQ as the results are announced - set to weepy music - is more reminiscent of American Beauty and the innumerable parodies than a real moment of heartfelt reflection.
But perhaps the most far-fetched moment is when Cummings and his counterpart in the Remain campaign, Craig Oliver, share a weary pint towards the end of the campaign.
Oliver worries about what kind of future they are preparing for their children.
As Downing Street's director of communications for almost all of Cameron's premiership, Oliver span tuition fees increases, massive attacks on pensions, unprecedented austerity and a ramping up of anti-immigrant propaganda from the government.
The idea that these die-hard Westminster-bubble political hacks are kept up at night worrying about anything other than their own careers and the wishes of the wealthy is surreal.
In a sense, the working-class history presented in Our Friends in the North is still a better guide to understanding Brexit than this production.
Despite finishing in 1995, it portrays the growing sense of alienation, the dismantling of industry and stability, and the anger at the establishment, far more clearly than Brexit: The Uncivil War.
The latter offers a marginally more subtle analysis of the referendum than is frequently portrayed, but still falls seriously short in capturing the real drama that unfolded.