The trope of Lady Macbeth is well-worn—a strong woman behind the scenes propping up a weak husband with power. And it is easy to dismiss The Diary of an MP’s Wife as the score-settling of an embittered wife who did not manage to crown her husband—the author herself says she planned to settle scores to make money.
Yet, this book shouldn't be written off entirely as the words of a disgruntled woman. A woman who gave up her career to follow a husband she thought might be prime minister because of his Eton and Oxford background. And if not prime minister, then certainly a minister. Unfortunately, instead of a glittering career, her husband hit a glass ceiling due to new diversity quotas, and Eton and Oxford becoming the wrong background, so goes her narrative.
In her narrative, being an Eton and Oxford-educated white male is no longer the 'right background'; Eton and Oxford have become limiting factors in career progression. True or not, the first half does feel like wading through the quicksand of score-settling. The name-calling and belittling feel like an attempt to put people back in their boxes.
The description of ‘Mr Xi Sho-pping (that’s what I call him now, as his country wants to buy up everything British)’ (Chapter 2015) is, however, relevant today. Anecdotes such as the one about a complicated toilet in Seoul airport are amusing. Considering she portrays her husband as a foreign office somebody, I wondered more about his knowledge than his background. For example, did her husband know that Samsung is Korean or about (South) Korea and Japan? In the 2013 chapter, he jokes about Japanese tourists on a boat on the Thames holding their Samsung phones. Samsung is understandably not popular in Japan. And with under 10% of the market share, Samsung comes in distant fourth behind Sony, Huawei, and Apple. Apple has a whopping 50% of the Japanese smartphone market.
Sasha Swire’s opinion about ‘pleb-gate’ in 2014 seems more knowledgeable. Parts are genuinely funny (for those interested in politics): ‘Micheal Gove is back in cabinet. Environment. Never known anyone who has less affinity with the countryside than him. At least he will be [in] charge of policy to protect wheat fields from those running through them.’ (Chapter 2017). The Swires’ struggles with an independent candidate (someone surnamed Wright but nicknamed Wrong), the left, and the media are threads that run through the book:
I’m a member of the right, I respect capitalism; I do not think its sole purpose is to foster greed, exploitation and abuse. And I don’t know anyone in the Conservative Party who does either. But then storytelling is a powerful engine in politics, it shapes the facts and the myths, and weaves them into the fabric of the discourse, and whoever comes up with the best narrative wins the prize. (Chapter 2016)
Swire describes her hatred for ‘Fucking lazy lefty academics’ in 2018. She tells a story of her daughter being ‘marked down on an essay about North Korea’. Considering her husband’s lack of knowledge about business in East Asia, what did the tutor read that made him say the daughter's ‘suggestions were unrealistic—which is rich, considering her father, who had responsibility for North Korea in the FCO, gave her non-sensitive information. These people have their heads in the clouds.’
I’m not surprised the Jewish Chronicle ran stories questioning whether Swire is antisemitic. I thought it was more than just her use of the term ‘Jewish Lobby’.
The second half is where the pace picks up--the narrative becomes the quest for revenge by the ‘Cameroons’. The burning question: Will the Cameroons have the last laugh against Old Ma May? The terminology is interesting—she’s not the Maybot; she’s Old Ma May. She is distanced as a different generation, not one of us; she is humanoid. The main characters in the government are all given nicknames—Hands on Cock, Dracula AKA Jacob Rees Mogg (also the count), Raab C. Brexit, 'Lord Pillock, I mean Pollak'. Only a few are not given nicknames: Arlene Forster and Julian Smith, both of whom were connected with Northern Ireland—a place where the author seems to retain a certain amount of fondness. Perhaps it was the grace and favour castle that came with her husband’s job.
The descriptions of David Cameron have perhaps gained the most traction in the media. Call Me Dave (‘I want to be clear my motivation for writing this book is not about score-settling,’ Michael Ashcroft) also made headlines for Cameron’s alleged lewd behaviour. And yet these books come from different sides—one inside: Cameron was so fit, we couldn’t keep up; one outside: we heard from a source of a source that Cameron was too unfit to go hunting.
From Swire the insider:
…looking around at the court of King David it feels as if this is actually the government here and now. The closeness of this circle is unprecedented. They are all here, the ones that eat, drink, party together, they are all intimately interlocked, some from university days, some from the research unit, some later, such as those with us through the selection procedure. 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. There are old rows, forgiven betrayals and historic rivalries. This is a very particular, narrow tribe of Britain and their hangers-on… where friendships have replaced all other mediums: church, family, schools, the idea of social networks is as strong as it has ever been and in many ways Dave’s court reflects this.’ (Diary, Chapter 2011, Sasha Swire)
The description of themselves as a 'court' belies Swire’s vision of herself as royalty. Does anyone else think of politicians as royalty or even 'aristocrats'?
Perhaps we will never know the ‘truth’ about David Cameron—is he a naughty toff who made high office as a vehicle for other people’s ideas, ‘[t]he source hypothesises that Tory grandees had long been “out looking for talent”, and that rather than being “self-made”, Cameron was “manufactured”’ (Call Me Dave, Chapter 20, Isabel Oakshott). Or was Dominic Cumming’s analysis closer in describing him as a ‘sphinx without a riddle’ (Call Me Dave, Chapter 30, Isabel Oakshott. Read Cumming’s blog The Hollow Men II for the full analysis) Do we really want to know?
Call Me Dave at over 1,500 iBook pages on the iPhone is not as gripping as Oakshot’s Bad Boys of Brexit; the Diary of an MP’s wife is mercifully a lot shorter. The editing has received widespread praise—for good reason. Perhaps the Diary of an MPs Wife would benefit from being even shorter.
The narrative did turn against Cameron and the Cameroons. It is more proof for Aristotle's fear and pity are stronger motivators than score-settling. Reading Swire’s diary, we feel a certain—albeit very limited—pity that the Cameroons did not ‘win’. When we ask ourselves what was Cameron’s legacy, we have to say his failed negotiations with Brussels. The Diary of an MP’s Wife details how Cameron embarked upon the renegotiations with no ambition for real change and little knowledge of how the EU works.
Sasha Swire is fond of saying she voted for Brexit. If this book is about score-settling with Old Ma May, it is also about saying: nah nah nah nah nah, I was right to have voted Brexit, or at least I knew a Leave vote was coming. The disdain she feels for Conservative Party members is honest if tactless. After insulting nearly everyone, you wonder who the intended audience is?
This book is a progression from traditional male narratives about Macbeth or Alan Clarke and his diary. If we consider this as another book that seeks to put women at the centre, then it is a good try.