Brexit: The Battle for Britain, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews
Brexit: The Battle for Britain, BBC Two
Brexit: The Battle for Britain, BBC Two
Inside Out: Laura Kuenssberg tells the referendum story from soup to nuts
Did we really need to go through this all over again? The referendum campaign left roughly half the nation levitating on cloud nine, and roughly the other half feeling amputated. We all know what happened, but in this hour-long post-mortem Laura Kuenssberg went looking under rocks for extra titbits and morsels that could explain from the inside of the two campaigns how Britain voted for the trapdoor/sunlit upland marked Exit.
The news is that there isn’t much news to report. Kuenssberg’s scoops have already been trailed in the prints: Clegg outing Gove as the source of The Sun’s non-story about the Queen’s Euroscepticism; Will Straw CBE (CBE!) needing six months to get a meeting with Corbyn’s people.
Brexit and its putrid aftermath (briefly covered in the last minute or two) have been the making of Kuenssberg. She is a breath of clean air after the clowning of Andrew Marr, the speak-your-weight robotics of Robert Peston and Nick Robinson’s oratorical penchant for marker-pen underlinings. Given the chance to put together a longer narrative, she topped and tailed the film with impeccable BBC balance but in between bared a little more of her real self. Attempting in interviews to expose campaign lies and incompetence, her face oscillated between wry scepticism and open scorn.
Most of this was aimed at the less prepossessing contributors. Craig Oliver, the strategic personage lately proposed for a knighthood by Cameron for making a Horlicks of the In campaign, looked like he couldn’t organise a vote to remain in a pub serving free drinks let alone a political union. His opposite number Matthew Elliott reminded one of a tall column of pus and ooze in approximately human form. The high-rising mediocrity Emily Thornberry dimly defended Corbyn (“his real voice was an important one”) and you could practically see her brain cells dying behind her eyes. As for Farage responding to the Sunderland vote, nothing is ever going to unremember the image of his pillbox gob shaping the word “Wow”.
Apart from him, none of the main campaigners took part. The most human contributors came from among the vanquished 48ers: Clegg (whatever you think of him), fiery Tory Anna Soubry, Lord Mandy (Cameron’s refusal to attack his Tory opponents “was like taking a spoon to a knife fight”). Soundest was Ken Clarke, who said the referendum wasn’t about the EU at all; the Out vote was motivated by “ferocious dislike of the establishment and the political class”.
This programme wasn’t really about the EU either. For all it was actually mentioned in any detail the referendum could have been on the right of Etonians to hold high office. Paying lip service to the idea that this was a working-class revolution, there were interviews with three grizzled gents from the North-East plus with Sam Adamson who, hoisted on celebratory shoulders in Sunderland, became the overnight poster girl of the 52 percent. They all agreed the establishment, the elite, Westminster – whoever or whatever you want to call it – had it coming. “For working-class people,” Adamson said, “it was like, ‘Yeah, now you’ve heard us, now do something about us.’” She may be watching that space for a while to come as the Corbynista hordes plot to keep Labour out of government for another generation.
Although stitched together efficiently, there wasn't much that was new in Brexit: The Battle for Britain. The story of the entire campaign was contained in a brief vignette reported by Labour MP Phil Wilson, whose constituents knew little of the EU and to whom he would explain the consequences of leaving it. “We’ll be all right,” they replied. Wilson looked epically nonplussed by their refusal to listen to someone – anyone – who knew what they were talking about. “They became the experts.”
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