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Review: Chief of Staff: Notes from Downing Street

Gavin Barwell, the author and narrator, was a Conservative MP and housing minister who after losing his seat in Theresa May’s snap election, was brought deeper into the government by being appointed her Chief of Staff. My political views aren’t entirely aligned with his – I’ve never voted Conservative and am very unlikely ever to do so (I’m more of a liberal – centre-left on society and centre-right on the economy), but we are both unionists and Remainers.

Though not a Tory voter, I’ve always felt Theresa May was a principled and fair leader, values mostly missing in modern politics. She was a good Home Secretary, standing up to the police federation, and would’ve made a decent prime minister – she just happened to have the top job at the wrong time. During the Brexit negotiations, too much politicking and lack of cross party compromise ensured she was holding the poisoned chalice.

The book mostly covers the scheming during the Brexit withdrawal agreement. The EU had to ensure Brexit was a failure to deter other states from leaving. The House of Commons was split three-ways: between those who wanted a second referendum, those who wanted a soft Brexit with close EU ties, and those who wanted a hard Brexit with a clean break from the EU. And those factions were again split on party-lines. Plus the speaker of the house wasn’t being the impartial chairman that the role required. All this together meant that any vote would fail, as there was never enough consensus to pass a bill. Gavin covers this well, giving opinions from both sides, and gives that behind the scenes view that the mainstream media is unable to deliver.

He also covers the Salisbury attack, Trump, the weaknesses of Corbyn, and a bit of gossip along the way.

The most interesting section is the conclusion, where he covers the what-ifs and the summary of where we are with Brexit. May was keen to ensure that the union survived, and all her negotiations centred around that. But polls amongst the Tory party reported that over 60% would still want Brexit even if it meant Scottish independence, with a similar percentage not caring about disruption to the Northern Ireland peace deal, and the same again wanting Brexit even if it meant the breakup of the Tory party itself – to them, all that mattered was getting Brexit done. Paradoxically, if the Scots do hold a second independence referendum, Johnson and Sturgeon would campaign inversely to their Brexit campaigns – in Brexit, Johnson demanded sovereignty and home rule while Sturgeon argued we’re better together!

A detailed account of a disruptive time in British politics, with Theresa May coming across as a genuine civil servant who cares about societal inequalities. It’s telling that when losing the premiership, she didn’t go into the private sector to earn big bucks like other politicians who are more concerned about their brand than the nation they served – she remained, and still remains, a back-bench MP. Well worth a listen (it comes across as a discussion rather than a reading), and a solid 5 stars!

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.