This is the latest edition of Iain Martin’s letter, delivering to your inbox his political analysis and a weekly round up of the best content from Reaction. Subscribe here.

What a week!

Many years ago, in a previous life as political editor of a Scottish newspaper, I used to write an anonymous weekly column based on the adventures of a fictional Scottish Labour member of the Scottish Parliament. Mungo McKay MSP was that rare beast, a Scottish Blairite. He represented the “rotten borough” seat of Lanarkshire Deep South and gave a weekly account of the behind the scenes shenanigans involving a cast of characters including Donald Dewar and Helen “the Dragon Lady” Liddell. One Conservative MSP in the then new Edinburgh parliament complained to our deputy editor that it was unfair for a Labour MSP to get a weekly column. Could he have one too? It had to be explained to him that Mungo did not exist, although his musings were a vehicle for me and other reporters on the paper to get in snippets of gossip about real political cock-ups at the dawn of devolution.

I’m not sure those columns will have aged well. They were only patchily funny and the basic premise – Labour in power in Scotland – now seems more than 15 years later inherently ludicrous. They also began every week with the expression “What a week!” which was designed to illustrate how pitifully small beer the machinations of Scottish Labour seemed. What followed – tales of Henry McLeish speeches gone wrong, and Alastair Campbell making Scottish Labour press officers cry – was usually pretty lame and did not merit the excited treatment given by Mungo.

This week, for once, that phrase “What a week!” can be employed without even a hint of irony. Unbelievable, seismic and historic are some of the non-sweary words used to describe the event of recent days. It is fair to say after what has unfolded since the UK voted for Brexit that we will not need any more of those articles from people arguing that we should find ways to make politics in the UK more relevant and exciting. In little more than a week we have seen unprecedented political turmoil, culminating in the destruction of Boris Johnson by Michael Gove, the man he thought was his ally in the race to replace David Cameron as Prime Minister. Tory MPs will whittle down the contenders to a final two, which will go out to the Tory membership in the country for a decision, with the county and our international allies looking on agog. On September 2nd the Tory party will have a new leader, and that person will become Prime Minister.

The level of engagement, interest and concern in Britain right now is extraordinary to see. Current affairs TV audiences are soaring. The Financial Times has seen a surge in subscriptions. For a small new venture such as Reaction – established to provide commentary on politics, economics and culture – it has been a pretty good time to launch. In only a couple of weeks our readership has gone through the roof. Thank you for reading and please pass on this email to anyone you think might like to subscribe.

But a good deal of the interest in Brexit must come down to public astonishment and worry that no-one has a plan for what happens next. How could both sides have gone into this and done so little preparation for a result that polls have suggested for several years was at least a possibility?

The answer is not particularly complicated. On the official Leave side it was a deliberate decision, although Michael Gove’s strategist Dominic Cummings will no doubt say that he had a plan all along just wait and see. The Leave team learned from the mistake made by the SNP in the Scottish referendum, when Alex Salmond published a detailed (but full of holes) plan for Scottish independence. In accepting the premise that they had it all covered, they were sunk when it became clear that the plan was a bit rubbish. It allowed the pro-Union Better Together team to hammer the point.

If Leave in the EU referendum had outlined a similarly precise blueprint, every spokesman and activist would have had to sign up to it and every doubt could have been turned into a split or gaffe. This was impractical when Leave itself is split. Leave was an uneasy coalition of interests and forces. Within its upper echelons were pro-market classical liberals who are actually pro-immigration and see control as involving a compromise on free movement, perhaps with the adoption of rules on arrivals needing to have a firm job offer, and maybe with some quota arrangement too. Alongside the liberals in Leave are those who see free movement and ending uncontrolled immigration, and reducing numbers, in more fundamental terms, as essential for social cohesion and national well-being. But one wonders after the depressing and horrifying racist incidents on British streets in recent days whether many people will want to come here in the next few years.

You can see how it would have been impossible to construct a precise negotiating position and timetable out of the Vote Leave team, especially with the might of the global Establishment ranged against Leave. Instead, the concentration was on “taking control” (meaning handing control to our parliament) and the principle of self-government, with some pretty questionable “pocket book” claims on the financial implications thrown in. It worked, and the key strategic insight of Vote Leave turned out to be right. That was that they just had to stay in contention until the government period of purdah began. Until then, the government could legally throw everything at Vote Leave, mainly on the economy. Once Leave got to the moment of purdah, and the start of the short campaign, and were still in contention, they could deploy their key theme of taking control with immigration as the main focus. That was always their plan.

But having a plan for after the campaign was not part of their plan.

On the government side, the decision was taken not to do proper contingency planning because it would have involved admitting the possibility they might lose. This turns out to have been a grossly irresponsible and arrogant act. Of course some work went on quietly in the civil service and at the Bank of England, but there was no large scale effort to define a post-Brexit position. That work is only beginning in earnest now, with a group set up within government.

The result is a worrying mess, and it is no good Leavers (of which I am one) saying that this is all invigorating. Who wants life to be dull? I could here have a go at arguing that not having any plan is good because the future will develop organically in line with evolutionary biology; or say that we cannot control very much and observe that out of the tumult will eventually emerge innovation. But let’s be serious. Human beings are tribal and when they choose leaders of the tribe they have a reasonable expectation that the people in charge should know what they are doing. Leaders cannot map out every aspect in advance, of course, but it is irresponsible to advocate throwing everything up in the air and then expecting the pieces to reassemble themselves naturally without anyone getting hurt. Most people who are not wealthy can do without too much creative destruction, because they fear with justification that they and their families get the destruction half of the equation, while others, usually wealthy, enjoy the rush of creativity. Governments have a serious responsibility to protect their citizens.

How can this be resolved? Getting a deal is going to take time and it will have to be done calmly. But the biggest threat to the possibility of a fair resolution comes from those who have adopted one of two entrenched positions. There is huge anger on the hardline part of the Remain side, and some prominent Remainers in the media do seem to have lost their marbles. Hysterical talk of a re-run or of blocking the UK leaving the EU is a waste of time. Equally, on the Leave side are the hardliners who say there must be no compromise at all. They are forming into an aggressive Leave means Leave effort, dominated by UKIP, which before long will be branding any hint of a concession as treachery. Incredibly, some are demanding the sacking of the Governor of the Bank of England, as though chaos at the UK’s central bank is what is needed right now.

The hardline posturing is daft. The country is split and many patriots voted to Remain. The UK is their country too. What comes out of this must command broad support across the middle ground of British opinion, otherwise we are in for decades of strife and division with the potential for more political violence.

Compromise is an essential component of life in a civilised society. It is what is required now to create a new national settlement that endures. Yes, Brexit was voted for. Yes, Brexit is going to happen. The questions are now: how should Britain leave in a civilised fashion and what constructive relationship do we have with the EU afterwards?

As the Leave campaign which won narrowly did not lay out a specific plan for exactly what Leave looks like it is a fair assumption that there are a variety of views among Leave voters about what they thought they were voting for.

The good news is that, beyond the hardline rhetoric, already the signs on a deal are hopeful. Behind the scenes, advocates of the UK pushing for a British version of the European Economic Area (perhaps with unique arrangements on migration quotas) are getting a hearing from the government machine and from some of the Tory leadership contenders.

There are other reasons for optimism. The world has very much not ended in the financial markets, and some bankers who warned me about Brexit now see opportunity for London, although there will be upheaval in the next few years. The eurozone regulatory bloc, in which rules are set continent-wide, and in which London is the dominant player because of its historic advantages and expertise, is ripe for disruption in the digital revolution which is about to transform and improve finance. London is well-placed to be the centre of that.

As expected, the Germans are being the most sensible of all on a deal. The German car industry wants trade to continue. Meanwhile, France wants Paris to replace the City of London. The financiers in the City see footage of rioting French protestors on their TV screens, just because the French government is at last introducing some modest labour market reforms. American bankers who like London are unlikely to be attracted by the scenes in Paris. Or by the thought of moving to Frankfurt .

A deal is there to be done, but it is at risk if angry voices at the extremes dominate this discussion and skew the process. The great mass in the middle – who accept the result and who want reassurance, and who will be grateful to a leader who can protect trade and restore sufficient control over borders – may need to start telling the hardliners, politely, to put a sock in it. Sensible Leavers and Remainers are going to have to work together to build what comes next. Not everyone will get everything they want post-Brexit. Welcome to real life.

All this will have be managed and steered under the leadership of a new Prime Minister. Who should that person be in Number 10?

More on that next week. In the meantime, have a good weekend.

Iain Martin,
Editor, Reaction