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Mills stays cool in the midst of an Uncivil War

Camden Council's former finance chief is given a nasty drubbing in Channel 4 Brexit drama

10 January, 2019 — By John Gulliver

Nicholas Days, left, who plays John Mills, in a scene from Channel 4’s The Uncivil War with Lee Boardman who plays Arron Banks

OF all the qualities John Mills possesses, one of them – a thick skin – he needed badly this week. And it didn’t let him down.

When I rang Mills after he had been given a nasty drubbing in the C4 Brexit drama on Monday night – Brexit: The Uncivil War – he surprised me with the studied calmness that he took what many of us may have been seething over.

He is a seasoned politician and has the responsibility of running the giant online shopping channel JML so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. But considering he has been a prominent advocate of Brexit for several years – pamph­leteer, orator, organiser of Labour Party Euro­sceptics – he probably expected a softer landing from the playwright James Graham.

John Mills

But Graham gave no quarter. Mills was seen by the man who ran the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, the hi-tech savant Dominic Cummings, as a kind of organisation paper-clip man, pretty unimaginative and out of his depth in a campaign that could only succeed if it abandoned old-fashioned political methods which had lost contact with those millions who don’t vote – and have a contempt for all politicians.

In the play Mills, who is chairman of the Leave campaign, is jettisoned after a few weeks at a Leave board meeting called to sack the geeky genius Cummings. But Cummings turns things round – and the meeting ends up sacking a bewildered Mills. You see a shot of an undignified Mills staggering away and muttering “I don’t know what happened!” when Arron Banks rings him for the latest on the meeting. I assume something like that probably happened behind the scenes of the frenetic Leave campaign.

Mills was in a BBC studio getting ready for an interview when I rang him on Tuesday but he didn’t seem flustered, saying he had known Cummings for a long time and, expectedly, they had had their differences.

He reminded me he had chaired the Labour Leave campaign, and had been supported by such parliamentary veterans as Frank Field and Graham Stringer as if to suggest Cummings was a bit of a new kid on the block.

But what about his portrayal in the TV drama? A bit awkward? A bit of an embarrassment?

I half-expected him to attack Graham, having been traduced by the dramatist, but Mills has been in politics since the 1970s – he is Camden’s former finance chief – and he can handle himself with the non­chalance of a politician. “No, it is only a dramatisation of events – and you can expect that sort of thing,” he said.

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