Harry Mount, author of "Summer Madness: How Brexit Split the Tories, Destroyed Labour and Divided the Country".

03-02-2018

Harry Mount is a highly accomplished author and journalist who last year, for rather unfortunate circumstances, became the youngest ever editor of the The Oldie magazine at the age of 45. In the media world, this did raise a few eyebrows, especially because of the shoes he would be having to fill. However, Harry, who will be hosting a lunch in Palma in May to attract subscribers to The Oldie here in Majorca, is taking it all in his stride and, because of the wealth of contacts he has made over the years, he has recently published his latest book Summer Madness: How Brexit Split the Tories, Destroyed Labour and Divided the Country.

To begin with, Harry admits that the magazine, which was founded by and launched in 1992 by Richard Ingrams, who for 22 years was the magazine’s editor following 23 years in the same post at Private Eye, is to a certain extent incorrectly titled. "It is not a magazine aimed at elderly people, far from it. It is a light-hearted alternative to a press obsessed with youth and celebrity and we have readers of all ages and all generations. We have a collection of excellent contributors and writers and we do our best to be apolitical. Fun and good articles - is there anything more you could want from a magazine?"

In June 2014, after Ingrams’ dispute with the magazine’s publisher led to his departure, Alexander Chancellor became the editor. Alexander Chancellor died suddenly in January 2017, and Harry Mount took over the editorship.

"Alexander had been a great and very close friend of mine and my family and it came as a terrible shock. Suddenly I was appointed to the editor’s chair and we have just celebrated our 25th anniversary as circulation continues to rise."

And while the subject of his latest book is highly political, he has reserved his private opinions. Summer Madness has been described as: "The inside story of the madness that ensued following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union. This is the only book that combines close, personal knowledge of all the main combatants with a blow-by-blow account of the biggest act of political hara-kiri in British history. Shortly after Boris Johnson was knifed in the back by Michael Gove, a close friend of Boris’s said, white-faced, to Harry Mount: 'Brexit is like some horrible curse. It kills everything it touches.’ In less than three weeks, from the referendum vote on 23 June to Theresa May’s elevation to Prime Minister on 13 July, Brexit had morphed into a mass murderer. In a day-by-day account, Harry Mount gives an insider’s tale of those three chilling weeks of mass blood-letting."

Harry says: "I just had to get my teeth into what had happened and what was going on. What is going to happen regarding Brexit? Who knows, I certainly don’t. But knowing quite a few of the players caught up in this political chaos I decided to interview them and get their views and sides on one of the most historic events in British politics which was, and is, unravelling in front our very eyes.

"What is blatantly clear is that this is an extremely passionate topic and all those involved on both sides of the house and on the streets of Britain have a deep feeling about Brexit. All the people I interviewed were very opinionated and honest, but what I discovered is that Brexit has not only split the country, it has also sliced great divisions in the political parties and more or less destroyed UKIP. They have been left with no raison d’être.

"I would not say that the country was lied to during the campaign. No. But what is obvious is that a lot of PR was involved and many cases were exaggerated, the truth was certainly stretched. Where Britain will end up, it is far too early to say but what the country can’t afford to do, and most probably will not be allowed to by the EU, is cherry pick.

"I know David Cameron has been accused of having left the country in the lurch by resigning so suddenly, but he had to, he knew that. Had he said during the campaign that he would stand down if Remain didn’t win, then that would have smudged the issue and some people would have voted to leave just to see the end of Cameron. So, he had to say he would stay on and see it through. The same way he decided to stand down as an MP.

"He told me that each time he entered the House, the spotlight was always on him and what he said, not the prime minister or the real issues of the day. So, much to his disappointment and frustration, he walked away.

"And now, his predecessor’s future depends on Brexit, and Tony Blair was right when he said that Theresa May should not be spending 90 per cent of her time concentrating on Brexit. There are many other important issues which need to be raised in the House.

"Yes, she had to start talking a hard Brexit. That’s how any bargaining process works. You go in at the top with your highest bid and demands and then the bargaining process begins and all sides start to negotiate as the process gets slightly easier and gradually softer. Whether that means Britain gets a soft Brexit, who knows. Two things are for sure, Britain cannot have Brexit and remain in the single market and the country can not have a second referendum. It will not.

"There was too much anger surrounding the referendum, a second one would just ignite that passion all over again and widen the divisions even further and that is on both sides of the House. One has to remember that 17.4 million people took part in the referendum and it even caused tension and divides in families. It wasn’t the typical political election when everyone pretty much knows how family members and friends are going to vote. This was totally different and still today many people don’t know how their closest friends, colleagues or relations voted.

"Passions were, and continue, to run very high up and down the United Kingdom, not to mention in the political parties. Labour did its best to oust Corbyn when 21 MPs resigned, but he weathered the storm, and he is still there and, to be honest, if there was a snap election Labour would probably win. They certainly have a good chance facing a split government with a weak leader.

"Corbyn has played a blinder and George Osborne recently told me he is surprised that Labour are not even further ahead in the polls. Over Brexit, Corbyn has managed to get the party on- message and his MPs are, to the most part, towing the party line.

"What was interesting when conducting the interviews for the book is that neither side would actually point the finger of blame at the other. Instead they tended to look into their own parties or similar thinking parties. The Tories I spoke to, Boris Johnson for example, were scathing about Farage and the extreme Brexiteers. The same can be said for Labour, while Farage is the accidental centre piece in all this.

"The in-fighting though is in the Conservative Party. Johnson’s already bottled it once at trying to snatch the crown. He famously replied aged just five, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, ‘world king’ and I think he still does. Although his sister Rachel, a fellow journalist and close friend, once said to me that ‘Brexit is mass murder’. So, Boris has only got one chance left.

"But there are plenty more MPs lining up to replace May, although right now no one is prepared to actually make a move to topple her. No one is prepared to stab the knife that kills Julius Cesar.

"Look back at Lord Heseltine’s attempts to topple Margaret Thatcher. In his official memoirs he tearfully recalled how he plotted her downfall but was never elected as leader of the Conservative Party, and when he retired from frontline party politics he said: ‘He who wields the sword, does not wear the crown’. And that is very apt with regard to the current situation.

"It’s Monty Python politics in the Conservatives. It’s like that great scene in The Life Of Brian when the argument breaks out between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea - they are on the same side. Who would be the contender to take over from May remains to be seen. Yes, there are plenty of MPs who would love to have a go. Gove could throw his hat in the ring, but I think, judging by his passion for axing people, he would probably not be the party’s favourite choice. Rees-Mogg perhaps or maybe one of the newcomers. That is another issue which the Tories will most likely put on the back burner until Brexit is done. But there is certainly plenty of plotting going on. Only time will tell."

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