The “Bad Boys Of Brexit” relates the adventures of Nigel Farage, Aaron Banks and Andy Wigmore and the Leave.eu campaign from July 2015 to the referendum and beyond, with a later addendum taking the story up to the May election announcement . It’s told in diary format as written by Aaron Banks, one of the leaders of Leave.eu. The blurb tells us that “every Remainer should steel themselves to read it, because the mindset that it captures…is driving change on both sides of the Atlantic.” (Gaby Hinsliff, The Guardian).
Well, whatevs. The blurb works if you live in the Westminster bubble, and I assume many such read it and made many serious pronouncements on WHAT IT ALL MEANS. Well, OK, if you must, but that misses the point, which is: the book is a hoot. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and deliberately so, and not for post-modern sarcastic reasons. Let me explain.
Firstly, you have to note that although it’s nominally written by Banks, it’s actually ghostwritten by Isabel Oakeshott (with help from Banks and Andy Wigmore, the third wheel of the Banks/Farage/Wigmore triad) and she reconstructed the events from texts, emails, notes and half-remembered events. The genre is constructed reality, that grey area where real people speak words that are plausibly their own and accurately represent what they said but are ordered and set to make the narrative flow and form a story. The best example of this genre is “Top Gear” and as Clarkson once said, it takes hours to write the script for an unscripted show. This book flows really well.
Secondly, everybody is as rich as Croesus. Seriously. Banks isn’t an Arthur Daley car salesman from Bristol, he owns a diamond mine in Africa and flies there and back insouciantly throughout the book. Millionaires walk on and off like bit parts: there is Stuart Wheeler, there is Jim Mellon, here are the Masons, there is a politician, well hello my Lord Ashcroft OHMIGODITSTHEDONALD. It’s “Stella Street” for the rich and infamous and I want Oakeshott to write Banks’s biography.
Thirdly, Oakeshott’s Banks has a waspish tongue and it’s hysterical. He disparages everybody who is not Leave.eu: Dominic Cummings, Matthew Elliot, all come in for forthright comment and his barbs at Douglas Carswell are cheerfully libellous. In real life it would be unpleasant but his Oakeshott avatar is poised *just* enough to turn him into a cheeky chappie and speaker of inconvenient truths, a witty gadfly not a creep.
Fourthly, and this is where the book really takes flight, it gradually begins to dawn that this is an episode of “Top Gear”. It’s the Brexit Special, where our three chums wander thru an event, messing up, having a laugh, and curiously winning. They are proper buccaneering semicrims on the Empire model, gliding thru casino and boardrooms, the “Persuaders” telepodded with Clarkson/May/Hammond, Roger Moore urbanity and Tony Curtis tough.
All the battles are cheerfully lost and nothing ever seems to work – Banks tries to organize a concert and a song and flops hugely, his staff are full-stretched trying to keep things going – but the war is won. Lesser books would ram the leave message home here, but Oakeshott is skilful and the persuasion slips down smoothly: people write in with small donations, volunteers volunteer, a great task is underway and the people are marching.
The extended book ends when May announces the election, and Banks cheerfully berates the reader for looking for the deliberately-omitted index. When you consider what happens next, ending it here is probably for the best. Farage should have retired to the House Of Lords and accepted the thanks due the most successful politician of his generation, not the CPAC groupie he turned into; Banks’s unpleasant side became more apparent; and so on as reality overwhelmed the polite narrative.
But never mind the facts, print the legend. The chums are best remembered in one of the book’s more memorable moments when, after winning the Referendum and having drink taken, Farage and Banks skinny dip in Bournemouth (Farage insists pants-on), cocking around on a provincial British shorefront. Brexit Madlads forever…
The “Bad Boys Of Brexit” reviewed here was the paperback version, ISBN: 9781785902055, published by Biteback in print and available new at £9.99 or free from your local library. Support your local library godsdammit… 🙂
Viewcode is a statistician who works in the private sector