Book Review: Saving Britain: How we must change to prosper in Europe, authored by Will Hutton and Andrew Adonis, published by Abacus, June 2018. 256 pages. ISBN: 9781408711224. UK £8.99.
Hutton and Adonis’ creation is nothing but a polemic of pre-Brexit Blairite thinking masquerading as a set of solutions to the new Brexit age, argues Bruce Newsome.
The discourse on Brexit is already so ridiculous that a book on the subject can either cut through with clarity or serve your needs like the proverbial hole in the head. Alas, the latest book is both slippery and cutting, both pretentious and tedious, both watery soup and cloying mud, with only about 200 pages of main body text, but so much repetition, contradiction, misrepresentation, and holier-than-thou preaching as to give you a headache. You don’t need the book to prove the headache – the authors already released a precis as a newspaper article, which feels like being beaten over the head by particularly self-righteous teenagers.
Your torturers are Lord Adonis (formerly a minister in Tony Blair’s government of no relevance to Brexit) and Will Hutton (a journalist of similar politics). Adonis was last news-worthy around Christmas 2017, when he resigned from the Conservative government’s National Infrastructure Commission, where he had focused on railways. He publicized his letter to the prime minister, in which he blamed her Brexit policy. The letter was so packed with hyperbole, prejudices, and fallacies that they deserved their own article at the time. His self-biography in the book claims that “he resigned to fight Brexit.” The preface states that the “book was written in an intense collaboration between Christmas 2017 and Easter 2018” – it is signed on St. George’s Day (23 April). It was published about seven weeks later, or nearly two years since the Brexit referendum. Yet this is not a book of careful reflection or research.
Hutton and Adonis blame the vote for Brexit in June 2016 on “problems…made in Britain” – primarily poverty. Their attribution is spurious: they claim that the poorest districts voted for Brexit, but other factors could explain both the poverty and the vote: for instance, uncontrolled immigration could depress wages and thence persuade the victims to separate from uncontrolled immigration. (Adonis’ and Hutton’s mistake is called the bivariate fallacy: an assumption that two factors that vary together must be causally related, without checking whether other factors cause variation in both. They might as well claim that cricket causes green leaves, because both are likelier in the summer.)
Hutton and Adonis accuse Brexiteers of “dodging the truth,” but they routinely dodge Brexiteers’ arguments. Instead of recognizing arguments about sovereignty or security or justice, Hutton and Adonis accuse Brexiteers of “economic moonbeams”; they mischaracterize Brexiteers as “intent on completing the Thatcher revolution” and “a Thatcherite world of self-organizing free markets and minimal social provision”. Their only evidence for this conspiracy is a quote from Nigel Lawson that “Brexit gives us a chance to finish the Thatcher revolution,” but Lawson was arguing for freedom from European “regulation” and made no reference to social provision. Hutton and Adonis dodge and mischaracterize until they contradict themselves – until Brexiteers are both collusive Thatcherite elites intent on dismantling welfare and impoverished misguided idiots.
Hutton and Adonis build on one mischaracterization of Thatcherism to invent another. They claim that the Conservative Party has been taken over by “an extreme mutation of Thatcherism – Faragism”. This is a development of Adonis’ accusation in his resignation letter to Theresa May that she was “allying with UKIP and the Tory hard right”. In fact, UKIP and Tory right-wingers are more critical of Theresa May’s policy than most of her party.
Hutton and Adonis define “Faragism” as “domination of England by a self-serving ‘wealth’ elite and domination by England of Scotland, Ireland and Wales.” This is both inaccurate and hypocritical. They list Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage as exemplars as “Faragism” – but these three have no institutional bonds and little affinity, so far as I am aware (Hutton and Adonis don’t offer any evidence otherwise).
This book is pseudo-academic – replete with misrepresentations about what people have said, what Brexit has cost, what Britons think. Nothing is directly cited – instead, the book has an inadequate list of “notes” in its back matter, in which some page numbers are either embellished without sources (such as to give the percentage who voted in a district), or sourced incompletely (such as: “data from Eurostate website”), or sourced to documents without page numbers.
Both their sources and their presentation are biased. For instance, Adonis and Hutton peddle the widely discredited forecasts of food shortages and fuel shortages within a week of a failure to reach a Brexit deal.
I got as far as page 2 before discovering the first shocking misrepresentation: the book quotes Theresa May as saying in March 2018 that Britain would have “less market access” after Brexit. Any quote should be cited, but their notes do not refer to it. I searched May’s speeches, statements to Parliament, and press releases in March 2018, but the phrase “less market access” never appears. In her main speech on Brexit (which happened that month), she refers to “varying market access” but that’s not equivalent.
Hutton and Adonis go further than to mis-quote – they misrepresent the quote as “the first time in memory that a prime minister has made a reduction in British trade an avowed object of government policy.” Even when May was speaking about “varying market access” she was not making “varying market access” a part of her policy – she was just talking about contingencies. (Anyone can talk about what could happen without meaning what should happen.) I cannot imagine how the authors’ misrepresentation could arise accidentally. The misrepresentations keep coming, but I would need a book of similar length to describe them all.
Hutton and Adonis promise in the preface to provide “solutions,” but their solutions turn out to be more socialism in Britain and more integration in the EU (which they spin as “reform”). The two are related – they see the EU as the imposer of socialism on ambivalent Britain. They imagine impoverished idiots turning against Brexit once EU welfare shows what’s good for them. Their essence is the same as George Soros’; I doubt this is a coincidence, although they don’t refer to him.
They promise in the introduction to offer “a manifesto for a European Britain”, “a new social contract”, “a Great Charter for Modern Britain, a new Magna Carta” – but these are pre-Brexit Blairite ideas pretending to be solutions to Brexit. Hutton and Adonis are hopelessly out of touch – they ignore the authoritarianism, injustices, inefficiencies, and insecurities of membership in the EU, then prescribe more of what most Britons voted against.
Hutton and Adonis have produced a beastly polemic, a pretence at scholarship, a sermon on Blairism as a solution to all things.