By Thomas Sherlock
In this comprehensive book, Tim Shipman aims to document the tumultuous events of British politics from the rise of Theresa May in July 2016 to her leadership under siege in October 2017. A follow-up to his previous book All-Out War, which covered the lead-up, campaign and immediate aftermath of the EU referendum in 2016, Fall Out provides an insight into the events that followed, ranging from the Chiefs’ management of Number 10, plotting in the corridors of Parliament and how the election thought to be the ultimate coup for May turned into a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Summarised as above, it is easy to mistake the events of the last two years for that of a political thriller.
In books seeking to document the ever-turbulent political landscape the question of the author’s own views and their impact on the book’s focus inevitably comes up. It is to Shipman’s credit that his personal views (of which despite having read two of his books, I am still none the wiser) do not appear to have affected his telling. All the various factions of both the Conservatives and Labour are covered, providing a multitude of perspectives but ultimately no single perspective is identified as more right than any other. The clearest example of this is the sections dealing with the Chiefs, with Shipman covering the various stories of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill’s tumultuous tenure in Downing Street whilst noting their biggest critics may have their own motives for being so hostile. Much talk is made of the importance of balance in political journalism, and it certainly appears Shipman has managed to achieve it.
Ultimately it is Theresa May who is the focus of the book, fittingly given it is largely her decisions (or lack of in some cases) that has shaped the course of UK politics since the referendum. The book contains multiple perspectives on May but ultimately she herself remains almost unknowable, leaving her true persona somewhat opaque. Was she too reliant on the Chiefs? Was she stuck in an election campaign that ultimately played to her weaknesses? Shipman does not shy away from some of the more obvious criticisms of her performance as Prime Minister but ultimately concludes on a somewhat sympathetic note, wondering really if anyone else facing such a difficult situation could have really done any better? It’s a worthwhile question. Are we all too willing to pin the difficulties of the last years on individuals, when ultimately the wider political situation may be equally, if not more, responsible?
In Fall Out Tim Shipman manages to achieve an account that proves comprehensive and balanced. Arguably even more crucially, his writing style manages to guide through all the conflicting sources to provide an entertaining reading experience. I highly recommend this book to those wishing a fuller insight into the political battles of 2016/17, and look forward (with some trepidation given the ongoing battle that is Brexit) to the follow-up.