Hugo Swire was not supposed to be remembered. A nondescript, workaday member of the British Parliament, Swire followed the well-trodden Establishment blueprint of any number of mid-level government drones before him. St. Aubyn’s. Eton. Sandhurst. Two decades hovering on the peripheries of power, and then a long and unmemorable retirement on a Commonwealth investment council. His destiny was ultimately to come and go without making a splash.
But then his wife wrote a book, and now everything has flown out of the window. Throughout her husband’s career, Sasha Swire kept a series of clatteringly indiscreet diaries. And now they’re being published as a clatteringly indiscreet book, Diary of an MP’s Wife, that has already managed to spook the life out of Westminster.
Although the Swires were never particularly big political hitters, they were still astoundingly well connected, as loyal friends of both Prime Minister David Cameron (so loyal that Cameron knighted Hugo in his resignation honors) and Cameron’s chancellor, George Osborne. The pair dominate the work, although possibly not in the way they would have liked. In the excerpts that have been published so far in The Times of London, Cameron comes off as something of a sexist boor—at one stage he allegedly threatens to push the author into a bush so that he can “give you one”; at another, Swire says, he stays up late to “admire Keira Knightley’s nipples” during a screening of Atonement—while Osborne is “Boy George,” a more complicated figure who simmers with resentment at being seen as Cameron’s underling.
Which isn’t to say that other figures escaped Swire’s gaze. Theresa May, Cameron’s successor, is the Medusa-faced “Old Ma May.” The Duchess of Cornwall talks as if she has “always got the end of a fag sticking out of the corner of her mouth.” The Queen has “beady eyes,” in bits published in the Daily Mail. Meghan Markle is “eating the redhead for breakfast” because he is “clearly not as clever as she is.” Boris Johnson is “desperately lonely and unhappy.” His chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, is an “odd amoeba.” Former House of Commons Speaker John Bercow is “a little weasel, creepy, revolting, little goblin, gripped by his own smug sanctity.” However, at times she gets things exactly right. Donald Trump is branded a “filthy, racist misogynist,” and at one stage Hugo frets that he’ll be knighted by Prince Andrew, saying, “I’m not kneeling down in front of that man. He might knight me with his todger.”
Cameron at one stage allegedly threatens to push the author into a bush so that he can “give you one”; at another, Swire says, he stays up late to “admire Keira Knightley’s nipples.”
Parodies are coming thick and fast; Craig Brown has already written two for the Daily Mail this week, and The Times has run a Negroni master class on the basis that Samantha Cameron apparently drank such a large one the morning after the Brexit vote that her breath made her husband recoil.
One of the biggest questions surrounding Diary of an MP’s Wife is also the most simple: Why? Why would Sasha Swire risk jeopardizing any number of ongoing close friendships over something as piffling as a book? It’s a question that Swire doesn’t seem to have been expecting. In an interview with Decca Aitkenhead published last Saturday, she revealed that the reaction to the book had already knocked her off-kilter. “We’re having a lot of trouble,” she said. “People just go hysterical, and they haven’t even read the bloody book.... It’s been quite traumatic.”
Even reviewers have struggled to locate a proper motive. At a complete loss for rationality, Quentin Letts of The Times suggested that it might possibly be because “her mother is Slovenian.”
David Cameron has already discussed the book in public, telling Times Radio that, while he doesn’t remember the bushes incident, “it’s embarrassing when you have things you say in private and do in private sort of splashed all over the place, and of course you’d rather that didn’t happen.”
You sense that he is particularly hurt by the diaries, especially in light of the fact—not included in the book but reported this week in the Daily Mail—that the Camerons were the first people that Sasha fled to after she claimed that her husband had been unfaithful.
One of the most notable reactions has come from journalist Sarah Vine, who also features prominently in the diaries. Vine is married to Michael Gove, an old friend of David Cameron’s, who viciously turned against him during the Brexit campaign. In the book, Vine seems to be perennially sucking up to Samantha Cameron. Vine this week used her newspaper column to quote friends who denounce the book as “baffling” and “an act of social suicide,” while mooting the possibility that it was written as revenge for her husband’s never getting the Cabinet job he wanted. It could also be the case that Vine is jealous that she’s no longer the only published M.P.’s wife on the scene. Who could possibly say?
Nevertheless, a great future awaits Diary of an MP’s Wife. When true political big hitters write their memoirs, it is always with one eye on maintaining a certain level of legacy. Indeed, Cameron’s own book For the Record was often stultifyingly dull. But those lower down the rungs have much less to lose, which is why Sasha Swire’s book is already drawing comparison to the diaries of Alan Clark, another mid-level government figure, who detailed the downfall of Margaret Thatcher in an eye-poppingly imprudent manner. Those diaries were eventually adapted for television, and you can easily imagine the same happening here. Sasha Swire might have lost all her friends, but she might have created one hell of a sitcom.
Stuart Heritage is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL based in Kent, U.K.