Today, we begin a blockbuster serialisation of one of the most explosive political diaries ever to be published. Alan Duncan, a well-respected Tory MP for nearly three decades, used them to let off steam in private about the ‘monstrous egos’ that surrounded him.
The diaries cover his final four turbulent years in Parliament, when Brexit split the Conservatives apart. Once a Eurosceptic, Duncan made many enemies himself by deciding to support Remain.
By turns outrageously bitchy, funny and despairing, the diaries eviscerate many of his colleagues — not least Boris Johnson and Theresa May. The ultimate political insider, Duncan had known Mrs May since Oxford University and in 2016 lent her his house for her leadership campaign. Later, as a minister at the Foreign Office, he became Boris’s deputy.
Now aged 64, Duncan has also served eight times as a shadow minister, and four years as a minister in the Department for International Development. In 2002, he came out as the first openly gay Conservative MP. Today he lives with his civil partner James Dunseath and their cockapoodle in a village in his old constituency of Rutland and Melton.
The Prime Minister is one of the targets for a series of astonishing personal attacks from Alan Duncan (pictured posing for a photograph in Westminster), his deputy when he was foreign secretary
Friday, January 8, 2016
To Rutland [constituency home]. As I walk in, [my partner] James greets me with a glass of wine. Yippee! He has recorded the first two episodes of the new series of Hawaii Five-0!
Thursday, February 11
Went to Number 10 for my 10.45 meeting with the PM [David Cameron]. We walked through to his study, alone except for Larry the Number 10 cat. At which point DC said, ‘Sofa’s all yours — next to the pussy. First time for everything!’
He was very good at pointing out the dangers of a Leave vote. He said we would just have three years of total ‘Euro-w**k’ and it risks being a catastrophe.
Saturday, February 20
[Michael] Gove, [Iain] Duncan Smith, [John] Whittingdale, [Theresa] Villiers, [Chris] Grayling and [Priti] Patel are all to campaign for Leave.
Sunday, February 21
Dolled-up Priti Patel on Sky. She really is a nothing person.
Boris will [also] campaign to leave. George [Osborne] and I agree there will be an initial sensation, and then a backwash against Boris, whose leadership intentions are brazen.
It’s typical of [Boris] — creating a media circus around himself, fuelling speculation while keeping others in the dark and then coming out on the populist side, despite it being perfectly clear he doesn’t believe any of this guff. The long-term Eurosceptics don’t trust him, and his self-serving ambition is blatant. But it will play well with the Tory base, which is all he cares about.
Sunday, March 6
Rupert Murdoch wedding to Jerry Hall. So — tell me, Miss Hall, what first attracted you to the 84-year-old billionaire Rupert Murdoch?
Wednesday, March 9
Sun headline ‘Queen Backs Brexit’ causes a massive row. Whoever was the source of this in the first place is a complete and utter s**t. But that could be quite a long list.
Saturday, March 12
[Tory donor] Michael Ashcroft’s 70th birthday party. [Justice Secretary] Michael Gove is there, having briefed earlier in the day that the leak about the Queen’s view on the EU ‘did not all come from him’. Utter sophistry. It was clearly him.
Sunday, March 13
I’ve thought about it so much and now I’ve decided [to support Remain]. Quite how we extricate ourselves [from the EU] and still expect to trade freely is beyond me.
Wednesday, April 6
Do full round of Yemen meetings. I have never so much as had a meeting with Philip Hammond about this poor dilapidated country, because quite frankly he’s not bothered. As Foreign Secretary, he’s only interested in the rich ones.
Friday, June 24
Woke up at 6am to hear the result [of the Brexit referendum]. S***! And then — bang! At 8.15am David Cameron announces his intention to resign. What the hell happens now?
Sunday, June 26
Speak to [Tory MP] Ben Gummer, George Osborne, Theresa [May], then the PM. All aghast at the thought of Boris succeeding as Prime Minister.
Pictured: Some of the personal attacks Alan Duncan makes on various politicians in his new, explosive memoir, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel
Monday, June 27
At 6pm I went to see Theresa in her office. I told her, ‘I’ve only got one thing to say — you must stand. I’m right behind you, go for it!’
She was pretty wooden, as she always is. You never quite know what’s churning away beneath her undemonstrative demeanour. There’s a tiny bit of me that thinks I might yet stand myself! But I’ve zero intention of actually doing so.
Thursday, June 30
News broke that Gove was ditching Boris and standing himself. What an utter s***! Boris then abruptly announced he wasn’t going to stand. Extraordinary. One whiff of grapeshot from Gove and he has completely buckled.
Friday, July 1
The Gove campaign launch. There’s something so socially unaware about him: it lies somewhere between shameless and synthetic.
Friday, July 8
[In] an interview [Energy Minister Andrea] Leadsom says she is better equipped to be PM because she has children! I text [Theresa’s husband] Philip May, ‘Leadsom is despicable — Sarah Palin [former U.S. Vice-Presidential candidate] on crack.’ [Leadsom pulled out of the race three days later, and May became PM.]
Thursday, July 14
Snakes and ladders during the day. Gavin Williamson as [the new] Chief Whip feels ill-judged. You want someone loyal there, and you won’t get that from GW, who is an inexperienced schemer, only in it for himself.
Friday, July 15
I went over to my [constituency] Association President Frances, Duchess of Rutland, who has been virulently pro-Leave, and said, ‘Well, I guess we are both happy: you have the EU result you want, and I have the PM I want.’ To which she erupted and shouted, ‘Oh you are so disgusting!’ and walked off in a huff. The trouble is, she thinks she’s in charge of everything, and that anyone who doesn’t share her opinion is beyond the pale. She really is such a haughty old boot.
The PM offered me Minister of State at the new Department for International Trade. I had to think quickly as I had no wish to be number two to Liam Fox. I suggested that with all my Middle East experience and knowledge, would she consider the Foreign Office instead?
She came back to me, half an hour later, and said yes to the FCO, implicitly as Minister for the Middle East.
Saturday, July 16
At 5.30pm I go to the Foreign Office. All seems clear and agreed that I will be Minister for the Middle East. [But] when I see Boris [now Foreign Secretary] at 6pm it seems a massive problem has arisen, which is nothing short of contemptible. Boris says the Conservative Friends of Israel [CFI] are going ballistic.
If I’d ever so much as sided with anti-Semitic people, or said anything near it, they’d be fully entitled to have a go at me, but I never have.
It is for no other reason than that I believe in the rights of Palestinians and it’s quite clear that they don’t. They just want to belittle and subjugate the Palestinians.
Now Number 10 are telling Boris I cannot have the Middle East. This it seems has come from [May’s special adviser, or spad] Nick Timothy, who has also been got at. Appalling.
Sunday, July 17
Sue Gray, in charge of ethics and propriety at the Cabinet Office, puts it to me that I can’t have the Middle East because I used to be in the oil business. This is not an issue of propriety. Clearly [CFI members Eric and Lord] Pickles and Polak have been lobbying against me. This is the most disgusting interference in our public life.
Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson, pictured left during his time as Mayor of London at the Spectator Magazine’s summer party in 2015, along with MP Alan Duncan, who has lifted the lid on Tory infighting in an unprecedented memoir
Monday, July 18
Serious argy-bargy all day. I am then offered what they insist is the most serious portfolio beneath the Foreign Secretary: EU, Americas, Central Asia, NATO and European security including Iran. Everyone is very concerned that I might immediately resign and cause a massive stink about this outside interference.
Wednesday, August 31
[FCO minister] Tobias Ellwood is being a childish twit, sending texts of complaint to Boris that I had seen the Bahrain ambassador when he is the person in charge of the Middle East. He has cancelled three meetings with me now and is basically refusing to talk to me.
Monday, September 12
David Cameron quits Parliament. Parliament is so in decline and is made weaker by senior personalities preferring to leave. Part of this is the sheer drudge of the parliamentary timetable, but it is more the vacuous cry about being a ‘part-time MP’ and having to declare in a register whenever you blow your nose.
[Cameron] has remarkable qualities of confidence and clear communication, but was prone to being glib [and] drew his appointments from too narrow a bunch of close associates.
For all his faults he was decent. I divide politicians into those who do or don’t pass the ‘holiday test’: would you want to go on holiday with them? Blair — yes. Brown — no. Boris — yes. May — no. Cameron passes with flying colours.
Wednesday, September 14
Tobias [Ellwood] turned up at the U.S. embassy last week. Odd he should be so shirty about me just seeing the Bahrain ambassador when there he is demanding accommodation in our Washington embassy and seeing people in the US without telling me, even though it is my brief.
Saturday, September 17
[May’s spads] Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy are throwing their weight around as if they have complete licence to tell anybody what to do in the name of the Prime Minister. Fiona is the worse of the two, abrasive and hectoring.
Monday, October 24
The PM is stopping BoJo from going to the Gibraltar Day annual lunch. She thinks he will goof and overdo it. But he is the Foreign Secretary, and over-controlling him will only sour their relations.
Tuesday, November 1
Meeting with BoJo — the chemistry between us is working very well at the moment. I’m studiously keeping out of Brexit and getting on with the diplomacy I enjoy. I will tell him directly if he’s ever doing anything which I think does him or our diplomacy harm, but I will say it to his face. My mantra is simple: loyal to Theresa, loyal to Boris, stay out of the news.
Monday, November 28
I attend a reception at Number 10. As I leave, Philip Hammond swanks in through the back gate, and walks straight past me with his nose in the air. He doesn’t even say hello. He has no idea how to extend elementary courtesies.
BIG BEAST BOJO IS NOT AMUSED
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Oral Questions [in the Commons]. There have been reports about the discovery of the fossilised remains of an enormous woolly mammoth. During one answer, I quip that the Foreign Secretary is living proof that the woolly mammoth can return from extinction.
Boris was not amused. Ridiculous. It was light-hearted and affectionate, so what’s the problem? Chill!
To Vienna. When I land, [there’s] a series of texts saying I had better contact Boris about the woolly mammoth. What on earth is all the fuss about? It was fun and harmless.
It’s all because he is in a frightful stew about [FCO minister Tobias] Ellwood who failed to answer a topical question on which he had been extensively briefed, leaving Boris to reply with no understanding of either the question or the answer. I have just been caught up in the slipstream.
Wednesday, June 21
The Telegraph has run a piece which takes a quote by me [in a documentary] rather out of context suggesting I have publicly told Boris Johnson to ‘stop playing games’ in respect of any future leadership race.
It is of course semantic exaggeration, but [Boris] phones at 8am to suggest I pen a letter to the paper to correct the record.
It is an absurd suggestion, as it will only give the issue more legs. It is only on page 7, at the bottom. He loves double-page spreads puffing him up, but is over-sensitive and loses all perspective when he faces an inch of adverse comment.
I was due to be announced by him in the FCO as the ‘Senior Minister of State’, but he has binned the idea following the Telegraph story. So petty.
He is an egotistical showman who just doesn’t understand Parliament, or how to run and motivate a team around him.
Tuesday, August 29
There is an article tagging Boris as an ‘international joke’ and [reporting] that ‘civil servants in the Foreign Office are horrified by their boss’s lack of discipline and have taken to slipping in to see his deputy Sir Alan Duncan when they need a decision’.
Boris calls. He wants to see me. For the first time ever, we have something of a stand-up confrontation. He has completely popped and accuses me of briefing [the journalist], which I hadn’t.
He says, ‘Why do you say they don’t take me seriously?’
I shake my head and say, ‘Just look in the f***ing mirror!’
Pictured: Boris Johnson Opening of The Emirates Aviation Experience.London Mayor Boris Johnson during the official opening of The Emirates Aviation Experience
Tuesday, November 29
KLM to Havana [for Fidel Castro’s funeral]. Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, arrived a couple of hours earlier. Opposition frontbenchers are not entitled to any assistance from the FCO, but I offered a modest degree of help, such as being met at the airport, the use of the residence, and transport to and from the funeral rally.
Extraordinary — not a word of appreciation or gratitude. It was as if she owned the place, and I was lucky to be allowed to join her. She is a graceless frump.
Sunday, January 8, 2017
[My partner] James [and I] watched Hawaii Five-O, both giggling. It was just so ridiculous it was great.
Monday, January 16
Gove has secured an interview with Donald Trump. It just feels creepy and a***-licking, keeping him on the map as an ex-minister, and no doubt all set up by Rupert Murdoch.
Sunday, January 22
Hawaii Five-O is going downhill.
Monday, January 23
Bump into a DfID [Department for International Development] acquaintance, on their way to a fatuous training course. They hate Priti Patel in DfID, mainly because she seems to hate all of them. She is clearly a complete and utter nightmare.
When Professor Anthony King, the renowned political analyst, died a couple of weeks ago, it was reported there is a current senior MP whose thesis at Essex University he considered abysmal beyond measure. The press named John Bercow, but it was in fact Priti Patel. The Wicked Witch of Witham scores again.
Monday, January 30
FCO all-staff meeting, addressed by Boris. As soon as he begins to touch on anything difficult, or is asked a searching question, he bats it away with short sentences and disarming quips. They like him, but don’t really respect him. They just don’t take him seriously.
An example is that whenever quizzed about the complexity of securing a deal with the EU, he just lapses into ‘Come on. Come on . . . (clenched fist, punchy arm wave). Be positive! We have to do this. Come on. Let’s all just go for it! Come on, guys. Don’t be negative. We can do this!’
But they know it’s b*****s: after all, they are the ones who understand the complexity of the details.
Wednesday, February 1
[Tobias] Ellwood has a nutty proposal that the UK should buy Svalbard, the archipelago between Norway and the North Pole — he wants it to become a UK spaceport. He’s bonkers.
Thursday, February 2
Ellwood is still on his Svalbard kick. Apparently he tried it before with Hammond, who just bawled him out and never spoke to him again. The Norwegians think we’ve gone totally nuts.
Monday, February 6
[Israeli PM Benjamin] Netanyahu is being feted in Number 10, meeting the PM, followed by lunch, and then we let him use the FCO media suite to peddle his pro-settlement propaganda. We are supine, lickspittle, insignificant cowards. I am ashamed of my own Government.
Dinner with [UK ambassador to the USA] Sir Kim Darroch. I said, ‘How do you find Tobias Ellwood?’ Kim replied, ‘It’s funny — whenever he wants to stay we are always full, and I’m somehow not in Washington.’
Thursday, February 16
Meeting with Police Gold Commander about Assange. [WikiLeaks] Julian Assange has been self-imprisoned in the Ecuador embassy [where he claimed asylum] for years, and we need to get him out but also ensure that he doesn’t escape unnoticed. I am gradually taking control of the situation to be 100 per cent sure that the police surveillance is adequate and that we are not caught napping.
Tuesday, March 7
The PM has sacked Michael Heseltine from his advisory positions to the Government (investment in the North; inner-city infrastructure, etc) which is stupidly petty and won’t bother him in the least. After all, he is over 80, worth £300 million, and probably regards most of the Government as a load of children. He’s not wholly wrong.
Wednesday, March 8
Flight to Warsaw. Fat Lump [Tory MP Eric] Pickles is in biz class, along with Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Foreign Secretary, all paid for by our embassy in Poland, while I fly in economy. I suppose that whereas FLP might just fit into an economy seat, he would probably never get out of it again.
Back home the Budget has been broadly cautious and uneventful, and Hammond even made a few gags. But he has no feeling whatsoever for people on low incomes, and is a Spock-like trampler over anyone else’s sensitivities.
In our manifesto for the 2015 general election, it explicitly stated that for the full duration of the Parliament we would not increase the rates of income tax, VAT, or national insurance contributions. But he has increased NICs for the self-employed from 8 per cent to 10. This is an undeniable breach of faith, and clearly a broken promise.
Thursday, March 16
[May’s spad] Fiona Hill [has] had a blazing row with Philip Hammond, who just told her to get knotted. She thinks she can just tell any Cabinet minister what to do — she’s mental.
Friday, March 24
Reception [in Antalya, Turkey]. Dinner. Unfortunately BoJo’s speech was just embarrassing. He made incomprehensible public school quips which cannot be translated, and banged on about being a supportive buttress, assisting the EU from outside it, which came over to the Turks in translation as ‘a supportive bucket’.
Sunday, March 26
President Trump is turning out to be a complete lunatic.
Ruling class: Theresa May’s Cabinet at Chequers in 2018
Wednesday, March 29
Bumped into Kwasi Kwarteng [Tory] MP in New Palace Yard. He says Boris doesn’t appreciate that diplomacy is not about having nice conversations with your friends: it’s about how you engage with those who are awkward.
Tuesday, April 11
Boris has made a complete Horlicks of the G7. Meanwhile, [I hear] Fi Hill has been shouting and screaming at Boris. I don’t know why he just sits there and takes it.
Tuesday, April 18
[At 11am, May announced there would be a general election.] A good result would allow her to see off the extreme Brexiteer nutters, even to the point where she sacks or demotes Boris. It is all to play for, but entirely ours to screw up.
Monday, April 24
Photo with the PM. I said that if she wanted a safe pair of hands to do back-up interviews during the [election] campaign, I’d be more than willing. All I got in return was a dead stare. Her social skills are sub-zero. It is odd that, after I did so much to galvanise her leadership campaign, she has never once even said thank you.
Friday, June 2
For Fi Hill to be putting it about that there is a Chancellor shortlist of Amber Rudd and Michael Fallon is inexcusable.
Saturday, June 3
Houston, we have a problem. We started this election with a supposed lead of nearly 20 per cent but it has been the most disastrous campaign imaginable. [May] has looked wooden and defensive, like a frightened rabbit, declining interviews and TV debates. We have engaged in the politics of personality — without any personality.
David Cameron texts me. I share with him my frustrations about the contemptible briefings from the PM’s team about a post-election reshuffle. He says he bets Boris won’t be moved, as ‘she’s scared of him’.
Sunday, June 4
Ariana Grande and others give a most emotional benefit concert in Manchester. Chris Martin of Coldplay is quite a hunk. Why have I never noticed him before?
Tuesday, June 6
I remonstrate with [a journalist] who has promoted the need for Gove as a stabilising influence following the election. Gove is an unctuous freak who generates his own publicity, a wacky weirdo who is both unappealing and untrustworthy. God help us if he is thought to be the answer to our woes.
Friday, June 9
[Day after the general election.] We have gone seriously backwards, losing 33 seats. PM’s statement outside Number 10 was awful — utterly tone deaf.
Pictured: The cover of ‘In the thick of it – the private diaries of a minister’ by Alan Duncan, in which he makes a series of personal attacks against Tory politicians after quitting politics himself just 16 months ago
Saturday, June 10
Oh dear. There are rumours that Gove might come back in. Rather better news is that Hill and Timothy are under massive pressure to go, and . . . yippee! Finally they do. Their high-handed tyrannical self-importance has destroyed the Government’s majority and may well destroy [May] too. Apparently TM had to be persuaded not to resign.
Sunday, June 11
Have a long chat with [Philip] Hammond. [His] account of dealing with the PM through the ghastly Fiona Hill is damning. The PM was told nothing beyond what she and Nick Timothy let her see. We have to stick with her, but she is a cardboard cut-out.
It is also clear that such is the level of distrust between Boris and Number 10 that he is being excluded from things he has a right to know. He is seen to be in it for himself and has no real understanding of the details of Brexit.
Reshuffle frenzy . . . Andrea Leadsom is to be Leader of the House. Mad. So surely not Gove as Chairman??? Please, please, please no. Phew! Gove is Environment Secretary. It is quite the most unimpressive Cabinet imaginable. It’s like a crowd of zombies, aimlessly circling.
Monday, June 12
Day one of the Government of the Walking Dead.
Tuesday, June 13
All-staff [FCO] meeting. It’s a critical moment, and BoJo offers little more than a rambling stream of consciousness, devoid of any foreign policy. It’s rather embarrassing.
Wednesday, September 6
I visit the Crisis Centre in the basement of the FCO, which is whirring away at full tilt in response to Hurricane Irma, which has belted into the Caribbean, and in particular the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
Thursday, September 7
A pretty full hurricane day. I make a statement in the Commons on it, then attend a COBRA meeting. I’m spending all my time helping to coordinate DfID, the MoD and the FCO.
Friday, September 8
The Governor of BVI is very worried about the collapse of law and order on the islands, and fears looting and unrest. RFA [Royal Fleet Auxiliary] Mounts Bay, with supplies and Marines on board, is due there now, and the Governor has asked for some soldiers to reinforce his small police force.
I’m in the Crisis Centre at about 10pm when a call comes in from the BVI Governor to say that there has been a prison breakout and 100 fugitives are now roaming about. He is asking for help.
I just go for it: ‘Governor, this is Alan Duncan, the Minister. I authorise you to take 12 Marines off Mounts Bay, and use them as you see fit.’ It was quite literally a ‘Send in the Marines’ moment.
The response, both in BVI and in the Crisis Centre, was extraordinary. They almost whooped and cheered. Slightly concerning for me, though, is that the Marines are not really my assets to deploy.
I call Mark Lancaster, Minister for the Armed Forces, to say what I have done. He is just such a superstar cool good guy. He immediately confirms that the instructions are valid, authorised, and should be followed.
Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2016, at the time as Foreign Secretary, along-side the then-Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Alan Duncan. Boris Johnson’s Cabinet was rocked last night by an explosive political memoir revealing vicious Tory infighting in Duncan’s memoir
Tuesday, September 12
In a meeting about the hurricane and the use of RAF aircraft to help rescue people, I quite seriously suggested using the Royal/PM’s Voyager plane. It would be a bit like using the QEII during the Falklands War. It also draws the sting from anyone criticising the PM/Queen having a plane. It would go into folklore. Where’s our imagination? Nowhere . . . so they won’t.
Wednesday, September 13
The stupid OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] rules, which define how Overseas Development Assistance can be used, do not permit us to use it for hurricane response in the [Caribbean] because [the islands] are not poor enough. Well, they bloody well are now!
The PM says she is frustrated by ODA. OK, but then tell your stupid ministers (in particular Priti Patel) not to brag about deploying it after the hurricane when they can’t.
Saturday, September 16
The DT [Telegraph] headline today is ‘Boris — I’m still behind Theresa for a “glorious Brexit”’. I think he’s only right behind her so as to push her off a cliff.
Breakfast with Tony Blair. We cover Brexit, Hamas and the Gulf. He loves having his fingers in Middle Eastern things, but I always feel it’s more to make money than to make peace.
Friday, September 21
Call with Ecuador FM [foreign minister] to discuss Assange. We both want Assange out of the embassy, after six years, but the Ecuador government won’t quite yet take the necessary final step for fear of the domestic reaction.
Saturday, September 24
[Boris] despises May, and thinks he is the next Churchill. He has a self-deluding mock-romantic passion which is not rooted in realism. He is disloyal. His comedy routine has gone stale; his lack of seriousness in a serious job rankles; and he has little following among MPs. He seems to have embarked on a reckless journey into oblivion.
I try to be the dutiful number two, but have lost any respect for him. He is a clown, a self-centred ego, an embarrassing buffoon, with an untidy mind and sub-zero diplomatic judgement. He is an international stain on our reputation. He is a lonely, selfish, ill-disciplined, shambolic, shameless clot.
Grrr. Got that out of my system. I feel better now. Smile and press on!
Extracted from In The Thick Of It: The Explosive Private Political Diaries Of A Former Tory Minister, by Alan Duncan, to be published by William Collins on April 15, £25. © Alan Duncan 2021. To order a copy for £22 go to www.mailshop. co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Delivery charges may apply. Free UK delivery on orders over £20. Promotional price valid until 17/04/2021.