The revelations in Lady Swire’s diaries about the goings-on in David Cameron’s circle of friends and supporters, have been described by some as scandalous. But let’s be clear about what we should actually be shocked at.
We all have chums we collect and keep up with, from school, university or work, but the so-called ‘chumocracy’ gathered round the former Prime Minister in Downing Street was something different.
For me, that was a cosy, self-serving clique of powerful politicians with similar views, usually from exclusive backgrounds, whose principal aim in life was to stay in their privileged magic circle and keep other people out.
The effects on the rest of us were very damaging indeed.
Cards on the table. My own chums reflect my background too – privileged, not in the conventional sense, but because I was lucky enough to grow up in the era of grammar and direct grant schools. (My ‘prep school’ was on a Dagenham estate.)
The Chumocracy: The ‘famously chillaxed’ Premier David Cameron with his Chancellor George Osborne
It was also a time when two-thirds of the entry to Oxford and Cambridge was from state schools, and entry into what we think of as leading professions – the law, the City, medicine, diplomacy – was widening. In many ways, we had a far more open elite than today.
So for me, the ‘scandal’ of Swire’s Diary Of An MP’s Wife: Inside And Outside Power, is not so much in their raucousness as their reek of entitlement in a supposedly democratic age.
As a former diplomat, I was struck by the gloriously insouciant passage where Sasha Swire says her hubby Hugo really ought to have been made Foreign Secretary – not because he was Cameron’s Old Etonian chum (that is taken for granted) but because Hugo was a charming fellow and had flown to lots of countries.
Before my career in politics, I was Principal Private Secretary to Lord Carrington, who was Foreign Secretary at the time. Like Cameron and Swire, Carrington was a charming Etonian.
But he was also a man of vast international experience, not to mention having been a decorated tank commander in the Second World War, who behaved impeccably upon the outbreak of the Falklands War by taking responsibility and honourably resigning.
As a former diplomat, I was struck by the gloriously insouciant passage where Sasha Swire says her hubby Hugo (both pictured) really ought to have been made Foreign Secretary – not because he was Cameron’s Old Etonian chum (that is taken for granted) but because Hugo was a charming fellow and had flown to lots of countries
I am not horrified by Lady Swire’s multiple ‘indiscretions’. Given the strains and stresses of public life, a bit of behind-the-scenes boozing and cursing or a little lustful commentary fails to qualify as real scandal.
The occasional ribaldry, such as Cameron’s less-than-gallant comment to Lady Swire in the course of a walk that he wouldn’t mind ‘giving her one’ in the bushes, does not upset me as much as it perhaps should.
In fact, I sympathise with his remark in a radio interview about the book that if someone kept a record of our private banter we might all feel retrospectively embarrassed.
Prime Ministers today are under far greater pressure than those in the past, not least from the media, and they are unlikely to relax by reading 19th Century novels before Question Time, as Harold Macmillan did in No 10.
Yet the diaries are mightily revealing, not just about a bunch of mates at the top of government, but something deeper, too. Recently, there has been a dangerous narrowing at the top of society, and this is what comes out in spades.
It is not the somewhat fetid intimacy of this governing clique that is truly unsettling so much as the smallness of their world. Before he was ejected as a Brexiteer, state-educated Michael Gove appears to have been the most meritocratic member, as well as the most brainy.
For all David Cameron’s attempts to be chummy with the public, whether by telling us he is a huge fan of The Smiths, or denying that his wife was posh because she’d been to ‘day school’ (ie one that costs £20,000 a year), these diaries remind us just as forcibly how out of touch he and his chums were when they were supposedly looking after the interests of the British people
As for the rest, they behaved as if life and politics were all a bit of an upper-caste game, one with no serious consequences, win or lose.
I don’t expect accounts of profound intellectual exchanges with our famously ‘chillaxed’ former premier, but then nor do I expect upstairs/downstairs reflections about Gove’s wife, new Mail on Sunday columnist Sarah Vine, who features largely as someone expected to do the cooking.
The humour, too, is a problem. Relentless jokiness is one thing, and some of it is certainly funny, yet what sticks in the modern craw is an overpowering sense of flippancy, a kind of ultimate light-mindedness about everything and everyone. It comes out most clearly in Cameron’s intimation that his aim was not to go on and on in No 10, like earnest, lower middle class Mrs Thatcher. He wanted, it seems, to get in to Downing Street and get out.
It’s as if the summit of his ambition was not to serve his country as its leader for as long as the electorate wanted, but merely to have done it once. Who can be surprised if a similar whiff is beginning to emanate from his old schoolmate in No 10 today?
Then, of course, there is the little matter of Lady Swire’s brazen betrayal of her closest friends, and her laughably unconvincing show of horror at the thought of how they might resent it.
Being a snob is repugnant, but there is something worse: privileged folk who attempt to ingratiate themselves with the masses.
I suspect she might have thought of that when she was compiling her material – day by day and meticulously, rather than making random jottings as she claims. That is another thing about our elite governmental cliques: the way they tend to rat on one another, old-school friends included, not infrequently for revenge or money.
Their pretensions are in many ways aristocratic, except that no one could accuse this lot of being trapped in out-of-dates codes of honour and decorum.
As it happens, I am about to re-publish a book I wrote 20 years ago called The New Elites: A Career In The Masses. Elites themselves are necessary and justifiable, but my book argued that Britain was increasingly run by an upper-caste of anti-elitists. You see this in the dumbing down of education. In government, you see it in the new casualness flaunted by expensively educated people at the top.
Yet for all Cameron’s attempts to be chummy with the public, whether by telling us he is a huge fan of The Smiths, or denying that his wife was posh because she’d been to ‘day school’ (ie one that costs £20,000 a year), these diaries remind us just as forcibly how out of touch he and his chums were when they were supposedly looking after the interests of the British people.
Being a snob is repugnant, but there is something worse: privileged folk who attempt to ingratiate themselves with the masses.
You see it in the Government but also in many of our actors, comedians, sportsmen and women, who increasingly have been to private schools. Well-educated, well-paid people who try to compensate for their comfortable backgrounds with Leftish, woke or prolier-than-thou affectations.
And what Lady Swire doesn’t say because she doesn’t see it, is that in the end it was an inner remoteness from the public that finally forced Cameron out of office after the 2016 referendum.
Lady Swire tells us of his rage and surprise when the result was announced. The rage I understand, but not the surprise. If you live your life in a cocoon of entitlement, you are not going to sense the wind getting up outside your window or how hard it is going to blow.
Whether you voted Leave or Remain is not the point. What mattered was that Cameron was so out of touch with real folk that he couldn’t imagine he might lose because large numbers of perfectly reasonable people, especially the less affluent, were understandably worried about immigration and were led to believe that a loud No to the EU would stop it.
I described this in a book I wrote as early as 2007 after a tour of the North (Time To Emigrate?). Struck by the feelings of fear, resentment and powerlessness that I encountered, I warned that ‘over-abrupt changes could evoke an extreme response’ with great consequences for our country. They certainly did, not least for ‘Dave’.
George Walden’s book The New Elites: A Career In The Masses, is published by Gibson Square, priced £9.99. To order a copy, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.
Diary of a social blunderbuss: MP’s wife Sasha Swire isn’t afraid to hurt people’s feelings. But it’s her huge sense of entitlement – making her almost oblivious to the comic absurdity of her story – that most tickles CRAIG BROWN
After two decades of being expected to grin and bear it, Sasha Swire has had her revenge. Diary Of An MP’s Wife contains a litany of abuse. Theresa May is ‘humourless’, Tony Blair is ‘a slimeball’, Julian Fellowes is ‘faintly ridiculous’, Jeremy Hunt is ‘oily’, Anna Soubry is ‘irritating’, Nadine Dorries is ‘mad’ and William Hague is ‘only ever interested in himself’.
And so it goes on – Dominic Cummings ‘looks like one of those odd amoebas you find in jars in school science labs’, Boris Johnson is ‘driven by jealousy’, Prince Charles’s fingers are ‘like sausages’, and Prince Andrew’s chairmanship of a group of businessmen is ‘excruciatingly painful to watch’. At various times, John Bercow is called ‘the dreaded’, ‘the little weasel’, ‘the little creep’, ‘the revolting’ and ‘that little goblin’.
Even Her Majesty the Queen gets it in the neck, for her failure to acknowledge the importance of Sasha Swire: ‘She fixes her beady eyes on me briefly, then swans past, not saying a word. She is telling me I am just a plus-one, not a player or heroine.’
In her introduction, Swire claims that ‘at no time did I write with the intention of publication’, though two sentences later she contradicts herself. ‘I can’t say the thought didn’t exist at the back of my mind’, she writes, ‘but I always pushed it away because I thought my family, my husband’s colleagues and my friends would see it as an act of betrayal.’
After two decades of being expected to grin and bear it, Sasha Swire, pictured, has had her revenge
Which is, of course, what it is. When Swire’s good friend Samantha Cameron confided in her that she had drunk a large Negroni at breakfast before her husband’s resignation speech, was she expecting her to publish it?
‘Dave apparently recoiled from her gin-sodden breath,’ adds Sasha, for good measure.
Another friend, Amber Rudd, mentioned over lunch that working for Theresa May was ‘like having a dragon breathing down her neck… you can’t talk to her like a normal person; she is just very cold.’ In it went.
Her friend Kate Fall told her that ‘she bumped into Sarah Vine at some party, who said what an utter nightmare it was living with her husband’.
Scribble, scribble, scribble! Diaries are constructed from the ruins of broken confidences. Despite Swire having had ahem, ahem, no thought of publication, last year, ‘out of curiosity and somewhat foolishly’ she passed a few extracts to a top agent (by sheer luck, the same top agent who handled the diaries of Chris Mullin and Kenneth Williams and the memoirs of Ann Widdecombe).
‘And before I knew it, I was swept up in a publishing tornado.’
For tornado, read cheque. Needless to say, she justifies publication for feminist reasons. ‘I think it is very rare indeed to read a female perspective on what is still a very male-dominated and secret world.’
Oh, yes? Harriet Harman, Edwina Currie, Mo Mowlam, Barbara Castle, Shirley Williams, Margaret Hodge, Cherie Blair, Kate Fall, Christine Hamilton and Margaret Thatcher are just a few to have offered us the female perspective in memoirs or diaries.
In Swire’s diaries, she says Dominic Cummings, pictured, ‘looks like one of those odd amoebas you find in jars in school science labs’
‘I regret if I have offended anyone… I imagine some entries might offend without meaning to do so. If so, I apologise.’ She is being disingenuous.
In her entry for February 28, 2017, she observes that David Cameron is hard at work on an autobiography. Never backward in coming forward, she offers a warning. ‘Of course, unless he is prepared to settle scores and wash his dirty linen in public it won’t exactly fly off the shelves, and I doubt he will do that as he is too much of a gent.’
I wonder if Swire will extend her apologies to her own daughters?
She might not be on a par with Edwina Currie, who called one of her daughters ‘hard as nails’ in her diaries, and the other ‘so shallow and trivial’, and even outed one of them for having illegal underage sex.
Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that young Siena Swire will be thrilled at her mother telling the world about her crying fits, or her ‘unhealthy obsession’ with Made In Chelsea’s Jamie Laing, who, in one passage, she stalks ‘up and down the King’s Road, such is her great love for him’.
On the other hand, while discretion may be the better part of valour, it is the worst part of a diary.
‘What is more dull than a discreet diary?’ asked the great political diarist Chips Channon.
The former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett once published a diary of 850 pages, having first excised anything personal: it was one of the dullest books I have ever read.
Samantha and David Cameron, pictured, are heavily referenced in the controversial book
The self-portrait that emerges from Swire’s diaries is of a social blunderbuss, one of those irritating people who delight in saying the wrong thing. Of her relationship with David Cameron, she reflects, ‘He likes me because I am not remotely nervous around him; I’m cheeky, lewd and sometimes a little bit too challenging.’
And how! Over a grand dinner at Chequers, she shouts across at Cameron that his plans for Syria are all wrong. When Francis Maude complains to her that Theresa May is ‘so boring and grey’, she replies, ‘Pot calling kettle black, Francis. You were the most boring politician of the century.’
At a formal dinner at No 10, she tells Boris Johnson, ‘You can’t serve this food, it’s disgusting.’
She has a perverse fondness for setting people at their unease. In 2010, she sits next to the Countess of Wessex at an official dinner.
‘So, bet he didn’t tell you he was Royal when he married you.’
She looks at me, puzzled. ‘I knew he was a Royal, of course I did. What do you mean by that?’
‘It was a joke!’
Later, she concludes that Sophie Wessex is ‘definitely sad’. But the poor woman would probably have been all smiles if she had been placed next to someone else.
On the other hand, the best diarists have always been blabbermouths, eager and willing to hurt people’s feelings.
At various times, John Bercow, pictured, is called ‘the dreaded’, ‘the little weasel’, ‘the little creep’, ‘the revolting’ and ‘that little goblin’
Swire has clearly been influenced by the brilliantly witty diaries of the Thatcherite Minister Alan Clark. They even share some of the same targets, among them Michael Heseltine, William Hague and the Queen. But Swire’s waspishness lacks Clark’s iconoclastic precision: he once complained of Her Majesty’s ‘frumpish and ill-natured features’.
Inevitably, given that her role was subordinate to someone who was himself subordinate, many of Swire’s anecdotes are second-, or even third-hand. As the diaries roll on, it becomes increasingly obvious that she was often not in the same room, or even in the same country, when the events she describes occurred. Instead, she just scribbled down the anecdotes her husband Hugo told her on his return from this or that get-together.
Did he know that she was writing it all down? Judging by the book’s dedication ‘To Hugo – Sorry!’ it seems not.
Despite what you may have read in the papers, many of the diary entries are on the dull side: holidays in Wales, patronising remarks (‘I always find Amber so politically naive’) and hand-me-down political overviews (‘the fragmentation of British politics continues apace…’). She also offers her own predictions, most of which have been rendered defunct by time. Before the 2017 Election, she predicts that Theresa May ‘will walk it’ and that ‘Boris is clearly not a leader-in-waiting’.
The book is more successful as a revealing portrait of a posh public school coterie who, in a weird throwback to the 1950s, found themselves with the keys to No 10.
‘We are like kids in a sweet shop,’ she writes of those early days.
In an additional twist, she has such an innate sense of entitlement that she remains largely unaware of the full comic absurdity of her narrative. Her diary starts when Cameron becomes Prime Minister in 2010. Sasha and Hugo – who she describes, optimistically, as ‘renowned in political circles for his charm and humour’ – are out shopping for antiques when the call comes through from Dave, who offers him a job as Northern Ireland Minister. For the rest of the day, Hugo keeps asking her to repeat the words, ‘Yes, Minister’ because ‘he likes the tone’.
In Northern Ireland, the Troubles have only just begun. To her horror, Swire finds that two sets of curtains in their swanky new apartment at Hillsborough Castle have been whisked away by the wife of the Secretary of State. ‘I don’t care who she is, it’s bloody bad manners!’ says Swire. ‘I’m going straight to the top on this one!’ Without further ado, she puts a call through to No 10.
Even Her Majesty the Queen, pictured, gets it in the neck, for her failure to acknowledge the importance of Sasha Swire
Later, when Hugo is moved to the Foreign Office, he is approached by a fellow Minister. ‘You couldn’t give me South America, could you, old chap? You know my wife is from Venezuela.’ The energetic scratching of backs continues throughout his career, and beyond.
After Hugo’s ministerial days are over, ‘Alan Duncan said en passant that he was putting his name forward to be Prime Minister’s trade envoy to the Pacific Alliance’. Nothing comes of it, but not to worry. ‘Hugo has quite an extensive list of directorships and chairmanships at the moment,’ notes Swire.
The right to preferment permeates the book: Swire regularly complains that her father, the former Defence Secretary Sir John Nott, has never been elevated to the House of Lords, and that, as an Old Etonian, her husband has been excluded from the Cabinet due to an absurd bias towards women and members of ethnic minorities.
But it all remains very chummy. Looking around the Camerons’ party in 2011, she concludes that ‘The closeness of this circle is unprecedented. They are all here, the ones that eat, drink, party together, they are all intimately interlocked… We all holiday together, stay in each other’s grace-and-favour homes, our children play together, we text each other, bypassing the civil servants.’
For no clear reason, five years later Cameron rewards Hugo with a knighthood in his Resignation Honours. There is bit of a hullabaloo in the press. ‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about’ complains Swire. ‘Why can’t Dave pack out the list with his cronies if he wants to?’
Despite Hugo’s apparently renowned charm and humour, he comes across as more of an amiable klutz – the Mr Bean of the Foreign Office.
In South Korea he presses the wrong buttons in the loo, and emerges showered with water. Opening a school sports centre in Shanghai, he throws himself to the ground when the fireworks go off, thinking he’s under attack.
Back home, he mixes up his breath freshener and his lens-cleaning liquid, and complains that his glasses are permanently fogged up and his mouth tastes funny. Swire dutifully logs all these pratfalls. Could these diaries be an unconscious act of revenge?
It emerges that Sir Hugo’s chief claim to fame is that, in his youth, he enjoyed a brief fling with someone very glamorous. This is certainly what interests Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
‘Hugo!’ he shouts across the table at a No 10 dinner for departing MPs, ‘Did you s*** Jerry Hall?’
If he did, then he is linked not only to Mick Jagger but to Rupert Murdoch, and perhaps, via Wendy Deng, to Tony Blair. Well, knighthoods have been handed out for less.
Furious Tory activists accuse Sasha Swire of ‘betraying friends’ with her tell-all political memoir
The wife of ex-Minister Hugo Swire has been accused by furious Tory activists in his former constituency of ‘betraying’ friends with her indiscretion-heavy memoir.
Sasha Swire’s tell-all book – Diary Of An MP’s Wife: Inside And Outside Power – lifts the lid on sex and political shenanigans in the party, describing David Cameron as ‘drunken Dave’ with a filthy mouth, Boris Johnson as ‘calculating’ and Theresa May as a ‘glumbucket’.
Lady Swire, 57, sent her diaries to a publisher last year after her husband retired as East Devon MP.
Last night Maddy Chapman, a Conservative district councillor there for 12 years, said local party members were ‘absolutely disgusted’ at the way she had breached the confidence of friends.
Sasha Swire, pictured with husband Hugo, has been accused by furious Tory activists in his former constituency of ‘betraying’ friends with her indiscretion-heavy memoir
‘She has shown herself for what she is,’ said Mrs Chapman. ‘She has absolutely no class whatsoever.
‘This has not gone down at all well in the constituency. Everyone I speak to is less than impressed and some, including myself, are absolutely disgusted.
‘Sasha Swire has never mixed within the local community, not even within our local party.
‘I suspect a lot of people will be crossing the Swires off their Christmas card list.’
In Lady Swire’s tell-all memoir, she reveals how David and Samantha Cameron drowned their sorrows following the Brexit vote.
She tells how, in the wake of the 2016 referendum, she visited the Camerons for a weekend at their Oxfordshire home. She claims that the then-Prime Minister asked her husband to bring ‘two fat Cohibas [Cuban cigars] and plenty of booze’ and was ‘chomping on cigars’ over ‘endless bottles of wine’.
And she adds that Mrs Cameron had to muster up some Dutch courage before joining her husband for his resignation speech, feeling unable to do so ‘without drinking a large negroni’.
She also says that Mr Cameron told her former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had a two-way mirror in his bedroom.
‘I sit next to Dave at dinner,’ she writes. ‘He gives us wonderful vignettes of the Sarkozys’ fake marital displays and of being given a tour around Rome’s equivalent of No 10 by Berlusconi.
‘When they come to his bedroom he points at a Renaissance two-way mirror above the bed and with his characteristic grin says, ‘Well, they didn’t have porn channels in those days, did they?’ ‘
Of Boris Johnson, she is withering, writing: ‘It scares the s*** out of me that people don’t see [Mr Johnson] as the calculating machine he really is,’ and she describes Mr Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds as his ‘hot young vixen’.
She has nicknames for many senior Tories. Former Prime Minister Theresa May is ‘Old Ma May’, George Osborne is ‘Boy George’ while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is ‘Raab C Brexit’.
Mr Cameron has admitted the diaries, due out next week, were ‘kind of embarrassing’.