“A comprehensive romp through the dramatic run-up to the 2019 general election, the culmination of several electrifying years which transformed British politics. A must-read for anybody who wants to understand what comes next.” This was the view of Pippa Crerar, the Political Editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper, in reviewing the latest publication of the Nuffield series of publications on British political elections, “Get Brexit Done: The British General Election of 2019”.
The foreword to this book states that it is the 21st. volume in the prestigious Nuffield series of British general election studies that started with the 1945 election. The 2019 election is considered remarkable for being the third general election in four years, a unique event in modern British politics. The book undertakes a massive description and analysis of events over the several years of the study, including changes and continuities in the background of candidates, opinion polling, media coverage, election strategies, instances of party system fragmentation, blanket media coverage, and shifts in the forces shaping voting patterns.
This book manages to balance these factors and changes, along with cogent interviews with those who were responsible for key decision in the political parties, as well as providing detailed and sophisticated analysis of the election results. It is a remarkable example of teamwork, that includes not only the authors of the book, Robert Ford, Tim Bale, Will Jennings, and Paula Surridge, but also its publishers, Palgrave Macmillan. An acknowledgement should also be offered for the contributions of other writers, for example, Ailsa Henderson and John Curtice, in writing various chapters in the book.
The overall purpose of the book is to provide an accurate, and as far as possible, an impartial account and explanation of the 2019 General Election. Sources are not always named, not only because quotes were taken from numerous conversations and interviews that challenge the memory, but also because some sources wished to remain anonymous. The authors admit responsibility for errors that might have occurred.
The major underlying argument integral to the 2019 election was Brexit – the process of removing the UK from membership of the European Union and the EU’s institutions. This was a dominating factor in the parliament leading up to the 2019 election, as well as in the background of several previous elections. It was the primary factor responsible for Boris Johnson becoming the UK Prime Minister. The 2019 General Election was dubbed the “Brexit election”. Johnson campaigned relentlessly on the issue of Brexit and, along with other notable political figures, particularly of the Conservative and UKIP political parties, secured a parliamentary majority which was seen as one that was substantial enough to determine the outcomes of British politics for many years. Therefore, it is understandable that Brexit is given a separate and major chapter in the book.
The events of the time – the unpicking of 40 years of political and economic integration – were too much for the temperament, strength, and skills of Theresa May, the Prime Minister who followed David Cameron and preceded Boris Johnson. May had been elected in June 2017 following the resignation of David Cameron, but the demands and intricacies of the Brexit decisions and processes caused the decline and eventual failure of her premiership in July 2019. This brought Boris Johnson into the leadership of the Conservative Party and the office of PM.
Johnson was one of the prime figures in the moving and shaking activity behind Brexit. With sometimes dramatic and controversial decisions, allied with irrepressible enthusiasm and public appeal, he sealed his control over the affairs of Brexit and the ensuing parliament. Then, with a decisive win over Labour at the 2019 General Election, one that was dubbed the “Brexit election”, he secured for his party, many of whom were firm “Brexiteers”, a parliamentary majority which was seen at the time as being one to determine the outcomes of British politics for many years. These outcomes are only now beginning to manifest themselves.
Along with the general narrative of the 2019 election, there are sections in the book which focus on matters associated with the devolved governments of the UK, notably the issue of a further referendum on independence in Scotland. Hindsight would suggest that more space could have been given to the matter of Northern Ireland, especially the issues of border control and trading between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, along with the possible implications for the Northern Ireland Peace Accord.
Further material explained and evaluated the matter of the role of the media and the blurring together of broadcast and online campaign coverage. There is a chapter analysing the election result at the individual level, as well as geographical patterns of voting. The book contains a retrospective of the election, but little by way of speculation on its aftermath. The latter might well have been most interesting in the light of subsequent events.
Andrew Rawnsley, a highly respected journalist and the Chief Political Commentator of The Observer, gives a rather brief, yet overarching opinion of the book when he states that it is “The authoritative account by an alpha team of political scientist. Lucid explanation of complex events and forces is combined with penetrating analysis of the causes and effects of a highly consequential election.”
The book has an impressive list of figures, tables, and illustrations, with a welcome gallery of pictures placed prior to Chapter 1. The book runs to over 600 pages of political narrative and Appendices, with sufficient statistics interspersed with the storyline to satisfy the most avid aficionado of the same. The present writer was particularly appreciative of “Chapter 4: The Man Who Wasn’t There – Labour Under Corbyn”, and “Chapter 6: Get Brexit Done – The National Campaign”.
This book, “Get Brexit Done: The British General Election of 2019”, is surely the definitive account of one of the most controversial and consequential general elections of recent times, when a man called Boris “gambled everything on calling an early election to ‘Get Brexit Done’; and emerged triumphant.
This was history in the making, and so it has continued – though its ramifications for the British people and their political system, as well as for the nation’s place in the world, have yet to be fully unravelled and understood.