Withering put-downs. Outrageous gossip. And a ringside seat on the maelstrom of the May years…
Our third extract from Alan Duncan’s bombshell diaries opens as PM Theresa May is struggling desperately to pull off a Brexit deal. Her popularity among Tory MPs has sunk to an all-time low and several — including Boris Johnson — are plotting to replace her. But Foreign Office minister Duncan still supports her, at least in public…
Friday, September 14, 2018
Reports [of MP Tom Tugendhat] calling for a younger person to assume the crown of the Party when [May] goes. I wonder who he might have in mind?
All these people want to run before they can walk. They see politics as a perpetual battle for succession, and not as a journey of duty and obligation which may or may not bring political promotion. It’s only the promotion that matters to them.
These types have little concept of what it takes to be a minister, let alone the Prime Minister. Only a ghastly period on the Opposition front bench begins to help them qualify — and the way they are behaving, that might come sooner than they’d wish.
Dead PM walking: But Theresa May battled on
Thursday, September 20
Oh [former Armed Forces minister] Mike Penning — what a dumbo. He is one of the dimmest MPs on our side. He has been over-promoted at every stage: as an MP, as a minister, as a Rt Hon and as Sir Mike.
Instead of being grateful for his good fortune, he lives in a permanent sulk that he isn’t in the Cabinet — God spare us when it’s bad enough already — and he has now done an interview attacking the PM. So thank you, Mike, you moronic, ungrateful, self-deluded, treacherous dunce.
Friday, September 21
[Brexiteer] Andrew Bridgen has apparently told our council leader that Boris has promised him (i.e. Bridgen) a position in his Cabinet if he becomes PM. Bloody hell!!! Australia here I come.
Saturday, September 22
[Treasury secretary] Liz Truss has completed her visit to the U.S. but it has been odd, unproductive and purposeless.
I sent an official a mock DipTel [diplomatic telegram] draft, daring them to issue it: ‘Chief Sec Liz Truss visited. Her stay was deemed both timely and useful. But to whom is not wholly clear. The consulate met her request to see a game of American football, and go shopping. Our local hosts proved most welcoming, but expressed a degree of bemusement at the purpose of her visit, and indeed at the minister herself.’
Wednesday, September 26
Labour’s MP for Crewe & Nantwich, Laura Smith, has called for a general strike to bring down the government if there isn’t an immediate general election. What a stupid, silly, rancid little idiot.
Unfortunately it’s not just her: the Labour benches are now populated by quite a number of rasping nasties — more often women than men — who haven’t moved on from their first year in the students’ union.
Monday, October 1
[New Foreign Secretary] Jeremy Hunt has drawn an unfortunate parallel in his speech likening the EU to a ‘Soviet-style prison’. It has backfired, particularly among the EU member states who joined to escape from communism. Pretty clumsy.
Tuesday, October 2
Boris [has] contrived a front-page photo [of himself] running through a field of wheat as a deliberate p***-take parody of the PM (who once said it was the naughtiest thing she’d ever done). Ha ha.
Thursday, October 11
A proper face-to-face with Jeremy Hunt. He has assumed informed command of his brief at lightning speed.
Sunday, October 14
DD [David Davis] is openly calling for a ‘Cabinet rebellion’ to firm up our position on Brexit. Well . . . he couldn’t firm anything up himself when he was [Brexit] Secretary. He couldn’t even come up with workable proposals.
Nadine Dorries, aka Mad Nad, is promoting David Davis as an interim PM. No, no, please, please, NO!
Monday, October 15
[Brexit secretary] Dominic Raab has got nowhere on Brexit and returned to London. David Davis swaggering around; other (useless) Cabinet ministers murmuring about resigning; the whole ship taking in water.
Tuesday, October 16
Speaker Bercow is an uppity little man. He is supposed to be impartial and should only hold a view which is set by the Commons. All these historic assumptions have been obliterated by Labour’s capture of the Speaker in the name of progressive causes . . . diversity, equality, women and so on. The fundamental rules of the place now count for nothing.
Wednesday, October 17
[FCO] ministerial team meeting. Jeremy [Hunt] is conscious that we can be pure of thought for easy targets such as Burma, but then we trim and equivocate when it’s our friends or where we have interests.
Friday, October 19
The Ecuador Ambassador says they have taken away [WikiLeaks founder Julian] Assange’s cat. After living in their embassy for five years [where he’d sought asylum], Assange has today launched a lawsuit against the Ecuador government for violating his human rights, but probably for restricting his internet rather than taking away his cat.
Sunday, October 21
[Tory MP and former Army officer] Johnny Mercer has slagged off the PM. If he were still in a regiment, he’d be taken behind the officers’ mess and roughed up.
Dinner with a parliamentary colleague who comes out with a stream of unrestrained gossip: one female MP colleague is being knocked off by two uniformed officers, but presumably not at the same time; [Justice Secretary] David Gauke hates Boris; the Chief [Whip] hates [Tory MP] Tom Tugendhat; and the bovine potato-trader [Tory MP] Andrew Bridgen is known as Spuduhate.
Tuesday, October 23
Buckingham Palace Banquet for the Dutch State Visit. There was a moment that was more amusing than embarrassing when I was talking to the Prince of Wales. The neckstrap of my heavily starched white waistcoat chose to detach itself, allowing my pristine garment to slip down my front.
Friday, November 9
Protocol call [me] with a problem. Our charming officials in the Immigration Service are refusing to issue visas for the Queen of Morocco’s domestic staff for when she comes to London for the Prince of Wales’s 70th birthday party. This is just the sort of idiotic jobsworth prattishness which can turn into a full-blown diplomatic crisis.
Sunday, November 11
I chat with the PM [Theresa May] over coffee: ‘Don’t flinch, and let me know if you want me to finish off anyone else.’
‘You are a little Exocet missile!’ she said, in a rare moment of banter.
Monday, November 12
Boris has called for the Cabinet to ‘mutiny’. He is an egotistical wrecker.
Tuesday, November 13
Hilarious [FCO] meeting to discuss my speech to the Foreign Press Association. I speculated on the likely reaction to a speech in which I said what I really thought instead of one that just spouts bland, boring platitudes based on what we laughingly call our current foreign policy.
Thursday, November 15
Crikey. What a tumultuous day! At 9am Dominic Raab resigns. He’s been the Brexit Secretary for four months. Then at 10am out goes Esther McVey from Work and Pensions. The s****y little Speaker Hobbit keeps [May] at the dispatch box for three hours.
Friday, November 16
[Environment Secretary, Michael] Gove has left his home, looking ghastly in jogging kit, thus acting out the usual tacky publicity stunt. He is milking it as usual with extensive briefings behind the scenes, while feigning loyalty to the PM. It fuels attention-seeking headlines: the ‘will he resign or not?’ c**p.
Wednesday, December 5
A friend with links to the MoD swings by my office. He says [Defence Secretary] Gavin Williamson is bonkers; he has mad notions more appropriate to an imperialist power the size of the U.S.
Monday, December 10
The bumptious [Brexiteer MP] Mark Francois muttered something gratuitously rude to me as I walked into New Palace Yard. Such is the current mood, but he’s also a pent-up oddball.
In the Tea Room, [Nicholas] Soames is on typically ebullient form. When I mention that my office do all my tweeting, and that I don’t know how to, he grabs my phone and says, ‘It’s easy — look,’ at which point he tweets ‘Bollocks’ in reaction to [political editor] Laura Kuenssberg’s latest BBC tweet. He is a naughty boy. I have to text Laura to explain.
Wednesday, December 12
Leadership challenge!!! It is a total act of sabotage, colossal folly and poor judgment. [May] wins convincingly — 200 votes to 117. Quite a day.
Monday, December 31
I’m really thinking of quitting politics next year. I am finding it so suffocating and small-minded. It is stultifying. Good night, and goodbye 2018.
Thursday, January 3, 2019
Amusing story about the Sultan [of Oman] from Patricia [Baroness Rawlings]. He was once given a bullet-proof Range Rover as a gift, which had all the latest bells and whistles on it. HM ordered the Royal Guard to take it out into the desert and fire at it. They did so, upon which it promptly exploded in a massive fireball. Hmm!
Friday, January 4
Dinner [in Muscat, Oman] with William and Ffion [Hague] who are holidaying there. As a guess at who might eventually succeed May, he punted for Sajid [Javid] and I punted for [Michael] Gove.
Saturday, January 12
Hawaii Five-O series 9 has begun but the storyline has deteriorated.
Monday, January 14
Labour MP Laura Pidcock came in to discuss a consular case involving child abduction. She was actually OK, despite being best known for saying she could never be friends with a Tory. My enormous portrait photo of Margaret Thatcher discomfited her somewhat. Just what it’s there for!
Tuesday, January 15
Day of the big meaningful vote [on May’s Brexit deal]. Defeated. Some of us hold an immediate meeting of what soon becomes known as the ‘Jan 15th Group’ in the Chancellor’s office: [Amber] Rudd, [David] Gauke, indeed all the moderate sensible colleagues who are not mentally certifiable.
Wednesday, January 16
The Deal is dead. After today we will be in office but not in power, so the only route out is [to] work with Labour. If we could be shot of Momentum on the Labour side and Moggmentum on ours, sensible people could sort this out.
Monday, January 21
Phone call with Lord (David) Triesman. He’s a former FCO minister under Blair. He said that under Corbyn, no Jew could feel comfortable in the Labour Party. I said Corbyn was too stupid to make the distinction between Jews in general and the actions of Israel in Palestine.
Oil entrepreneur and neighbour Algy Cluff says [ex-Minister for International Development, now Justice Minister] Rory Stewart is doing well, but ‘although he used to look quite pretty, as he grows older he looks more and more like a horse’.
Tuesday, January 22
I’m told James Cleverly really thinks he is a credible candidate to take over from Theresa May, and that he would definitely make it to the last two in any contest. It lifts absurdity to a new level, as he’s been in the House for two minutes, has never been a minister and seems to think his clandestine briefing of the Press and being a mere vice-chairman of the Party (which doesn’t mean much these days) somehow equip him. The place has gone mad.
Monday, January 28
The PM had just addressed the Party. At the meeting, Boris aggressively demanded she say what her solution is. To think that six months ago he was her Foreign Secretary and today he is like the slovenly teenager at the back of the classroom being insolent to his teacher.
Tuesday, January 29
Encounter Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in New Palace Yard. He is always jocular. I say I haven’t a clue what will happen, but that given the lunacy of colleagues it requires a serious dose of divine intervention.
Wednesday, February 6
Continuing Brexit mayhem. Gloom. Gloom. Gloom.
Saturday, February 16
Bump into George Osborne in the foyer. As soon as ‘Private Pike’ Williamson spots him, he immediately drops all his meetings, to the fury of his private office staff, both civil and military, choosing instead the opportunity to suck up to George.
Brief encounter with [Trump’s son-in-law] Jared Kushner. There is something unusually baby-faced and attractive about him, which is very annoying as I’d expected to find him inherently dislikable.
Sunday, February 17
Seeing Boris in the corridor last week, I noticed he’d taken off more than half his hair. The tousled blond mop had been turned into a scraggy layer resembling the lunar surface. It means he’s on manoeuvres.
Wednesday, February 27
[Jacob Rees-Mogg] Moggy sounds ridiculous on Today. Apart from his pompous, over-mannered ‘Good morning, Mr Robinson’, he was in a fantasy land of nitpicking nonsense. He thinks he’s clever: he is not.
Friday, March 1
JH [Hunt] is in Oman . . . pictures emerge of him crossing his legs during the audience, which I specifically briefed him not to do, as it is very bad manners in the Arab world. It is like slouching or picking your nose.
Tuesday, March 12
Texted [former education secretary] Nicky Morgan to chastise her for calling for Theresa to go. She is not up to much: promoted too quickly, then binned, now bitter, with poor judgment and behaving self-indulgently.
Wednesday, March 13
Ecuador Ambassador Jaime Marchán is determined to get Assange out of his embassy, but President Moreno requires a final push in order to be persuaded to press the button.
Wednesday, March 20
Ministerial team meeting. Hunt just doesn’t exude enough purpose or authority. Lots of rational thinking but not enough grit.
The PM’s performance at PMQs went down like a bag of cold sick. She’s like a single flaking old pit prop: everyone knows it will collapse but dares not touch it to wedge in a replacement in case the roof falls in first. We are in meltdown and seem to be on an unstoppable journey to national humiliation and decline. ****-a-doodle-doo!
Saturday, March 23
My regard for Jeremy Hunt has dipped somewhat. In the last couple of days he has failed to condemn Trump for saying the Golan Heights now belong to Israel; he wanted to cancel the Prince of Wales’s trip to Cuba because of U.S. disapproval; and he made the UK vote against a motion in the UN criticising Israel’s human rights record — even though they killed 180 in Gaza, including children.
Alan Duncan pictured above
Monday, March 25
I berated Tom Tugendhat, who should know better, for his lack of diplomatic good manners in openly criticising the Prince of Wales’s visit to Cuba while it was under way. He was totally unrepentant. Cocky little t****r.
Tuesday, March 26
On the off-chance, I texted [Health Secretary] Matt Hancock to see if he could make dinner. He said yes. I’ve come to like Matt, having rather resented his progress as [George] Osborne’s pet. I told him he’d made a great journey from pushy little s**t to becoming a contender. I say he should consider buddying up with Jeremy Hunt, and that there are plenty around who would do anything and everything to stop BoJo getting even halfway up the Mall.
Thursday, March 28
A small moment of humour in the Tea Room about [Tory MP] Michael Fabricant’s infamous hair: ‘It’s so woven, Axminster has met Westminster.’
I think I am nearly there with Ecuador to get Julian Assange out of their London embassy. It has taken months of delicate negotiations, but nearly, nearly . . .
Tuesday, April 2
I intend to finish as a minister in summer and return to the private sector. I suspect the Government will collapse then anyway.
This is no longer a party I feel happy in. Half of my fellow MPs are intolerant ideologues and we just don’t share the same principles. They are throwbacks and nationalists; they have no proper sense of international influence and relationships. Their actions will diminish Britain.
Wednesday, April 3
Have a coffee with Ken Clarke, who is about the only sensible person left. Charming [Tory MP] Alex Chalk says we are surrounded by fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists. We are indeed turning into a mutant Ukip. So, all in all, another s****y day in the hideous Brexit odyssey.
Thursday, April 4
Minor reshuffle. [MP] Simon Hoare is very upset not to be made a Whip. But what’s the point of being a deckchair on the Titanic for only a few months?
Sunday, April 7
[Jacob] Rees-Mogg is a cheap nationalist with faux manners and an ego the size of a planet.
Monday, April 8
To Luxembourg with JH [Jeremy Hunt]. On the plane back, it became clear that high-level advice to JH is not to make a stand on the Israelis’ annexation of the West Bank, because our relations with the U.S. matter more than the principles we ought to defend. It’s the end of us having a credible foreign policy.
Thursday, April 11
Suddenly it’s game on: I’m told Assange will be sprung from the [Ecuador] embassy today. So I drop everything and head to the Operations Room at the top of the Foreign Office.
Operation Pelican is go — suitably assisted by one official wearing a pelican-motif tie.
We watch a live feed which ironically was available on the web from Russia Today. Bang on 10am, two or three plainclothes policemen enter the embassy.
We were expecting Assange to be brought out very soon after their arrival, but texts to the Ops Room revealed he had caused a bit of a commotion and had been screaming and bawling while edging towards the Ambassador’s office — at which point he was forcibly restrained.
Then, with military precision, six police officers marched up to line each side of the entrance steps, to form a protective corridor through which Assange was bundled out at about 10.20am. By this time Russia Today had twigged something was afoot and cut the live feed.
So, job done at last — and we take a commemorative photo of Team Pelican. It had taken many months of patient diplomatic negotiation, and in the end it went off without a hitch. I do millions of interviews, trying to keep the smirk off my face.
Wednesday, April 24
I am suddenly called up to answer an Urgent Question about the Saudis’ execution of 37 men yesterday. It is not my ministerial responsibility and I am required to defend the indefensible. But I somehow manage.
One of the stories leading the news is the PM’s supposed decision to allow the Chinese firm Huawei to participate in the building of the UK’s 5G mobile network against the view of some who were at yesterday’s NSC [National Security Council] meeting. It is being spun as a bad decision by the PM.
[I hear] there is a ferocious leak inquiry. I think they need to look at Gavin Williamson’s phone. It is bound to be him.
Friday, April 26
Mark Lancaster [Armed Forces minister] calls at 8pm. He says Gavin Williamson is sweating! A full-scale leak inquiry is under way, and ministers who attended the NSC have been asked to show their mobile phones. Ooh, ooh, ooh.
Wednesday, May 1
Breakfast with David Cameron. He is so glad not to be in the middle of everything that is going on at the moment. He has a very straightforward opinion about Boris — ‘He ruined my bloody career.’
There are fizzing rumours that a ministerial sacking is imminent. And then it happens. Williamson is summarily sacked.
Thursday, May 2
Williamson is proving ferociously defiant, protesting innocence. But he had refused to hand over his phone, and when he did he had deleted all his texts, which was self-incriminating. Even if he was innocent, he had it coming.
Monday, May 20
A fabulous day in Ireland with the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. Dinner at our Ambassador’s residence, Glencairn. One of the guests is the mimic Oliver Callan, Ireland’s answer to Rory Bremner. Over drinks after dinner, he plays out a hilarious Donald Trump skit in front of the Duchess and two or three of us.
As he finishes to universal laughter, HRH fixes me with a stare and a grin, and says, ‘Alan — I understand you do a very good impression of my husband!’
Wednesday, May 22
[Leader of the House] Andrea Leadsom resigns at 7.45pm. [May] will limp on, but is already dead. We are in an extraordinary state of animated stasis.
- 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.