It’s a massacre! In the final extract of his excoriating memoir, Alan Duncan gives his withering take on Johnson’s new reign.
Our final extract from Alan Duncan’s riotous diaries opens as Theresa May, beleaguered in No 10, finally announces the date of her departure as prime minister.
Meanwhile, Tory MPs are already throwing their hats in the ring to replace her, and every day seems to bring news of yet another leadership candidate…
Friday, May 24, 2019
Reporters keep talking about ‘the key to the door of No 10’. It’s annoying. It has no key. It only has bolts on the inside. At the moment they are being used to the full.
A colleague calls. He had just received a call from [former chief whip] Gavin Williamson urging him to back Boris [for Tory leader].
Not a chance, but the leaking slimeball issued veiled threats about his future if he didn’t. That won’t wash.
[Theresa May] emerges [from No 10] at 10.04am. She will resign as Conservative Party leader on June 7, and serve as PM until the end of the leadership contest. So there we are. That’s that.
Her six minutes was an elegant apologia. It was her usual solid but stilted self [but] she was breaking into tears during the final few words. It was deeply moving and emotional. [My partner] James and I both had tears rolling down our faces. I just thought, ‘Well done you, and sod the ERG [European Research Group]’.
Dead PM walking: But Theresa May battled on
I really must go for an urgent sanity check-up. The potty messianic Steve Baker — self-styled ‘Brexit hardman’ [has said]: ‘There is no shying away from it — I have had a level of support in the country I could never have foreseen. I now have to take on the challenge of deciding whether to run myself.’
The nutjob should be taken away by the men in white coats and certified as clinically insane.
As if credulity has not already been stretched to its limits, [I hear] Graham Brady has told Theresa that he will stand down as chairman of the 1922 [committee] in order to put himself forward as a leadership candidate. It is bonkers beyond utter bonkers. He has no qualifications that equip him for the role.
So [the leadership candidates so far are] Johnson, Hunt, Javid, Gove, Raab, Leadsom, Stewart, Hancock, McVey, Truss, Mordaunt, Brady, Baker, Cleverly. Any more takers? Larry the cat? This is collapsing into absurdity. It’s a national farce.
Meanwhile Airhead Waddlebottom, aka [Brexiteer MP] Mark Francois, gives the most mean-minded interview, gloating that the ‘Dancing Queen has met her Waterloo’. Ha ha, an ABBA gag. Not funny, you horrid little man.
Former party treasurer Lord (James) Lupton texted charmingly saying I should stand for the top job, that he would offer his house round the corner for an HQ and would raise the money for a campaign. Too late, sadly. Probably too unrealistic by any measure, but very generous-spirited of him.
Sunday, May 26
[Michael] Gove has declared. [Priti] Patel says she might … aaargh!
Both [Dominic] Raab and [Rory] Stewart solicit my support by WhatsApp. It is just extraordinary that the candidates themselves don’t call personally. I will not respond to any of them.
So far [Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s] campaign is pretty moribund. He was supposed to call yesterday for a chat. I have a note in my pocket of three things to tell Jeremy very forcibly.
Sort your image — the shirtsleeves and startled eyes must be changed. Stop tacking to the Right — every time you suck up to Leave, you trash your own brand. Sort your campaign — you cannot run it via Spads [special advisers] and WhatsApp; it must involve personal MP-to-MP engagements.
Airhead Waddlebottom, aka MP Mark Francois, gives the most mean-minded interview
Monday, May 27
Speak to Philip May, who was out for a walk with Theresa. Nice friendly chat, in which he expressed appreciation for all my support. It’s rather illustrative that, even now, she just doesn’t have the inclination to grab the phone and say hi.
Potato Head [Andrew] Bridgen gives another, ‘Oh it’s all so easy and straight-forward, just get on with it’ interview. Similar attitude to Mark Francois. It’s hard to know whether Potato Head or Airhead Waddlebottom will go pop first.
So lunatic is the process that [Paymaster General] Jesse Norman is suggesting he might stand. He is the ultimate stuffpot, with no parliamentary clubbiness. Blooming ’eck.
Mark Francois is at Hay-on-Wye [book festival]. A bit odd when he isn’t capable of reading a book.
Tuesday 28 May
Oh dear, oh dear. The freak show widens. Kit Malthouse, Housing Minister, has thrown his hat in the ring. Why oh why do these insignificant figures think so much of themselves?
Wednesday, May 29
[Brexit Minister] James ‘not so’ Cleverly has declared. So the addition of this shameless neophyte takes the list to 11. Apparently Steve Baker, Jesse Norman and Priti Patel are all limbering up. Crazy people for crazy times.
Thursday, May 30
[Environment Minister] Zac Goldsmith WhatsApps: ‘Colleagues, you know what you need to do!’ The insinuation is that we should vote for Boris and leave immediately with No Deal.
He has never mixed with any of us so long as he’s been an MP. He saunters in wearing corduroy trousers, holding a leather zip folder and a phone glued to his ear. He never talks to anyone.
He presses some environmental causes through Boris, and peddles an extreme anti-EU view which echoes his late father, Sir Jimmy Goldsmith of the Referendum Party, and then buggers off.
The leadership farce is turning into pantomime. [Former chief whip] Mark Harper has announced his candidacy.
He is the 12th. Has he no judgment? Can he not see how stupid he looks? It is a cry for attention, and a bid to return to a ministerial position.
Victory for Boris Johnson: New Conservative Party leader and incoming prime minister Boris Johnson arrives at the Conservative party headquarters in central London on July 23, 2019
Saturday, June 1
The thing is, Boris is going to win. But then what?
Monday, June 3
Air Force One arrives at Stansted at 9am. The State Visit has begun. Jeremy [Hunt] has a friendly-looking chat with the President at the foot of the steps. I text him to say it looked as though [Trump] was going to kiss him.
Wednesday, June 5
Great pageantry in Portsmouth for the D-Day commemorations. The Queen, resplendent in cerise amid a sea of grey suits, spoke movingly of the resilience of ‘my generation’, while U.S. ambassador Woody Johnson, immediately behind her, seemed to be videoing it on his iPhone.
Wednesday, June 12
Liz Truss suffers a car-crash interview on Today. She sounded ridiculous in repeatedly claiming that Boris was one of the best foreign secretaries ever.
Saturday, June 15
I’m told [Health Secretary Matt] Hancock is due to declare for Boris. I just can’t believe that he has suddenly switched from striking out on his own to taking the Boris shilling, no doubt in exchange for the promise of a job.
It smacks of George Osborne in the background, pulling his strings and scheming for that future moment when Boris explodes and the Hancock time arrives. But I am deeply disappointed.
I text [Matt] rather ferociously: ‘What a pity. You built up a fantastic reputation and you’ve just destroyed it. In my book you have just gone from hero to zero. Sorry.’ Horse-trading for ‘jobs’ just sucks.
Boris is under a gagging order imposed by his minders. They just know that if he opens his mouth it could all go horribly wrong.
Sunday, June 16
I call Matt Hancock. I said I’m sorry I was so tough on him. He was adorably appreciative of the call. I think he’d been hurt. He had been agonising and feels he needs to row in behind the inevitable Johnson victory.
He says all the remaining candidates have been promising people jobs. How squalid and disappointing. S****y horse-trading . . . bald men being promised a comb etc.
Thursday, June 20
It looks as though, without the knowledge of the MPs themselves, Gavin Williamson may have used their proxy votes intended for Boris to instead boost [Rory] Stewart in the earlier ballots and then throw him into reverse to rob him of momentum.
Just the kind of Machiavellian plot Williamson loves. Even if he didn’t do it, nobody thinks he wouldn’t.
[Latest leadership] ballot: Johnson 160, Hunt 77, Gove 75. So it’s Hunt vs Johnson.
Saturday, June 22
Well, that didn’t take long. Boris is all over every front page. The police were called to [his girlfriend] Carrie Symonds’ flat late on Thursday night after what is reported as a noisy screaming match accompanied by the sound of smashing glass.
The neighbours called the police, having heard shouts of ‘Get off me’, ‘You just don’t care about money’, ‘You are so spoilt’ and ‘You’ve covered the sofa in red wine’.
If he behaves like this when he is supposed to be on his best behaviour, then whatever next?
Sunday, June 23
There are now a number of stories suggesting that Boris might only be PM for a day, and that there are enough Tory MPs who would rather bring down the Government than have Boris as PM and/or a hard Brexit.
Monday, June 24
Priti Unspeakable [Patel] does Today. She is simply ghastly. Shameless c**p, refusing to admit that the Boris plan for leaving on WTO [World Trade Organisation] terms cannot be delivered.
At last. At long last!! There is progress on smartening up the Foreign Office signs around the rising bollards and underneath the arches on the entrance from Whitehall. It has taken me two years. Never mind wars and pestilence: this will be my lasting legacy!
Tuesday, June 25
Boris is being kept in his kennel except for the occasional permitted bark.
Wednesday, June 26
[Gavin] Williamson seems to think that he should be Deputy Prime Minister. It is the ultimate horror show.
To Albert Embankment to meet constituents who have come to London as part of a massive climate-change campaign day.
Some nice young people, but mainly a group of crackpot, angst-ridden, vegan women, who just repeat slogans and can’t offer a deeper argument.
Their cause is right, but they can’t do anything other than complain and attack.
Matt Hancock became an enthusiastic schoolboy in support of Boris Johnson
Monday, July 1
The day gets off to a nauseating start with a Today programme interview with Matt Hancock, who has become an enthusiastic schoolboy in support of Boris.
For the sake of his own promotion, on which he has no doubt done some sort of deal, he has become a crazed apologist for him, stating things he simply doesn’t believe.
Overnight, [my constituency] association chairman has forwarded a series of emails, two from members we have never heard of, calling for me to be deselected for saying that Boris isn’t fit to be PM. How much longer do I have to put up with these people?
Sunday, July 21
Speak to Jeremy Hunt. I tell him I intend to resign tomorrow. He says he doesn’t blame me for a second.
Monday, July 22
After three years, I’ve returned to the backbenches. As I walk through Members’ Lobby afterwards one of the messengers hands me a charming, appreciative letter from the Prime Minister.
Tuesday, July 23
[Final leadership ballot]: Boris 92,153, Hunt 46,656.
Wednesday, July 24
I text BoJo to say well done, but also to beware of appointing Williamson or Patel to anything, as some are minded to walk if he does.
Once Theresa May has been to the Palace to tender her resignation, Boris arrives and kisses hands at around 3pm. So it is that the Crackpot Government begins.
Then the resignations and sackings come through . . . Javid going into No 10. Hunt — out! Patel to Home Sec. Raab to Foreign Sec. [Theresa] Villiers and [Gavin] Williamson in.
It’s a massacre, replacing the Sensibles with the Despicables. It seems anyone who was not pro-Brexit has been culled.
Friday, July 26
As further ministerial appointments come through, it appears I have been replaced by Chris Pincher. Captain Peacock, as we call him, struts around in a perfectly nice way.
I’m not aware of any international experience that qualifies him — it looks to me like more of a reward for being in the Whips’ Office.
Sunday, September 1
I texted Boris suggesting we have a chat, and to his credit he called me today. I assured him that, although I had clear views, my instinct is to support prime ministers, and I will do so in the future as I have in the past.
He dangled the prospect of the Lords, but not in an explicit way – oblique references to ‘Putting you to work in another capacity’ and the like — but I said it was up to him and I wasn’t particularly bothered. It certainly didn’t amount to a clear offer or commitment.
Tuesday, September 3
Boris makes his first performance at the dispatch box as PM — a statement on the G7. He flunks it. Instead of making a sober statement, he [is] far too knockabout. One of those days when every room in Parliament was buzzing and fizzing with scheming and speculation.
Friday, September 6
The record so far: [Boris] has lost all four votes held in the Commons since he became PM; he has lost his majority in the Commons; he has failed to call the snap election he wanted; he has lost formal control of Commons business; he has expelled 21 of his own MPs; he has lost another Conservative to the Lib Dems; his brother Jo has resigned as a minister; the Party’s leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, has resigned.
In fact all of that has been in the last week. It’s not really going very well. He’s off to Balmoral tomorrow . . . with Carrie Symonds . . . prompting some cynic to call it ‘Bal-immoral’.
Monday, September 9
The Speaker announces that he will stand down. Typically, he allows this short statement to run on into lengthy puke-making tributes from Members to his wonderfulness. It was real finger-down-the-throat stuff.
Tuesday, September 10
Theresa’s resignation honours have been published. CBEs for the brutish [Spads] Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy.
Meanwhile [Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin] Netanyahu says that if he is re-elected he will annex parts of the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank. He has already, with [Donald] Trump’s backing, illegally claimed ownership of the Golan Heights. The world order is in tatters, and the UK has become a puny submissive lackey of the United States.
Thursday, October 3
In the lobby of 1 Parliament Street, Airhead Waddlebottom [Brexiteer Mark Francois] walks past and throws a sentence of gratuitous abuse at me. He so needs counselling.
I bought [Theresa May] a coffee in the Tea Room. She is relaxed and cheerful, but evokes no frisson when she walks into the room.
I text the Chief [Whip], who asks me in to see him. He wants to support my going to the Lords and will fix a meeting with the PM asap. Frankly, I’m in two minds. It’s nice to be able to dine with your mates, but it has become a political dustbin.
Monday, October 7
Key landmarks in London have been brought to a halt by a mere 2,000 Extinction Rebellion protesters. It is a bizarre mixture of pensioner campaigners and self-righteous, gobby twenty-somethings.
Tuesday, October 8
The smellies of XR (Extinction Rebellion) are becoming very annoying. Marsham Street and Great Peter Street are blocked by their pop-up tents and their gazebos serving coffee. They are all complete weirdos who walk around with zany smiles and wide vacant eyes.
Monday, October 14
The State Opening [of Parliament] and a Queen’s Speech. There is no Bill in it to prevent the prosecution of historic criminal cases against soldiers.
Johnny Mercer, now the relevant Minister in Defence, pledged his career on it, threatened to resign the whip, went on strike, etc, and yet no Bill.
Some colleagues are determined to mob him up by telling him he should resign. On one level he should, but that’s not modern politics.
Saturday, October 19
[Boris] maintains that we can get Brexit done by 31 October. Nobody believes him, or thinks he believes it either.
Wednesday, October 30
I have decided to stand down and call my constituency chairman to tell him. He could absolutely see why being an MP for any longer was not especially attractive.
Tuesday, November 5
Remember, remember the fifth of November — my last day in Parliament after 27 years. It hasn’t been a bad run — politics is little more than a game of chance, and it’s been going downhill steeply over the last ten to 15 years.
Now that our politics is driven by the 24-hour news cycle, by social media and by the appeal of novelty over experience, I’m not sure it’s serving the country’s needs as it should. But I’ve done my best and tried to be conscientious rather than self-seeking.
Looking around at all the youngsters who are so shamelessly pushy, I sometimes think I should have been more so.
I attend the valedictory speeches in the Chamber. I was ready to make one myself, but just couldn’t. It was too emotional and I was welling up just sitting there. Instead I head back to Rutland, never to sit on the green benches again.
Tuesday, November 12
Lots of Spads are being selected for safe seats: the Party and our politics are becoming ever more incestuous.
Monday, November 18
[Former Speaker John] Bercow is to take part in Sky TV’s [general] election night coverage, which is shameless and inappropriate. And thus entirely in character.
Sunday, November 24
They’re already calling [foreign secretary Dominic Raab] the Advent Calendar — because his days are numbered.
Thursday, December 12
General election day. It is the first time in 32 years that I haven’t been a parliamentary candidate. What a relief.
Friday, December 13
The final result is a majority of 80. It really is an amazing outcome. The Boris campaign just touched a nerve and delivered. The authority of the Government and the UK on the world stage is enhanced by the size of the majority.
Monday, January 20, 2020
Boris wants to move the House of Lords to York. Just when he is sensibly looking like the serious Prime Minister we want, he backs this bats**t-crazy idea.
Friday, January 31
Brexit Day! Ann Widdecombe (of all people) makes a toe-curling little speech alongside a scrappy huddle of departing deadbeats as they leave the [Brussels] Parliament building, bizarrely accompanied by a kilted piper.
So the brave new dawn of the UK on the world stage begins with a pathetic band of Little Englanders being screeched at by a cranky old bat as they depart into obscurity. Just about sums it up.
We leave the EU at 11pm. Meanwhile, two cases of the coronavirus have been reported in the UK . . .
- 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.