Much has been written about the recently published Diary of an MP’s Wife by Sasha Swire, wife of the former Conservative MP for East Devon, Hugo Swire …
This memoir will be right up your alley if you’re keen to hear the inside gossip on the Camerons, Goves and other of the Swires’ friends (or maybe now ex-friends) in high places, not to mention Brexit. But for this review I will specifically concentrate on those entries in the diary that refer to machinations in the West Country.
First, a declaration of interest: I am not a member of any political party and my (very brief, never to be repeated) foray into local politics was as an Independent town councillor. I was an early supporter of Claire Wright, an Independent district and county councillor, who gave Hugo Swire a run for his money in two general elections, as well as his successor in a later one, coming as she did within a hair’s breadth of toppling them both.
I have not had the (dis)pleasure of meeting the author. I doubt that many local Tories have met her either for, although they lived in the constituency for ten years (before decamping to a manor house in mid-Devon, where they remain to this day), few ever saw them. Mrs Swire confirms that her husband was often abroad and that she was often in London or Cornwall (her father had been MP for St Ives).
Brief photo opportunities were always Hugo Swire’s preferred form of contact with local voters, (ramping them up quite a bit nearer to elections) but for those, he was usually accompanied only by his dog, Rocco, rather than his wife – Rocco probably being a more welcome presence.
Just about all the anecdotes in the book are as embarrassing to Mr and Mrs Swire as they are to those who are the butt of her remarks. They show a shallow, entitled view of the shallow and entitled world in which she is cossetted (as she has been all her life). She obviously feels herself and Hugo to be a cut above just about everyone else and name drops all the time. She has no understanding of the wider world and no wish to understand it.
At a local level, Mrs Swire constantly criticises Claire Wright (who from the middle of the book is referred to as “Claire Wrong” – ha ha), demonising her for “only being interested in being an MP”. Her view is hardly surprising considering her husband is on record as saying that the job of an MP could and should only ever be part time. She does at least concede that her husband was run ragged by Claire in two general elections, even opining that if Claire had tossed her “lustrous locks” a little more, she might well have beaten him or his successor, Jupp. Mrs Swire relates how she has herself often made use of her own ‘feminine wiles’, though in a less than sophisticated way, even at times employing crude gestures, for example, cupping the genitals of male guests – perhaps not the wisest of behaviour for Claire (or anyone else) to copy.
Mr Swire comes over somewhat badly in the book. He is berated, shouted at and ordered about, all of which he seems to accept without question. She often embarrasses him in front of colleagues (though, to be fair, the same colleagues seem to spend a lot of their time drinking and embarrassing each other).
However, the biggest and most damning local revelation – apart from cruelly describing local Tory councillors as “toilet seats” and other Tory politicians in an equally unpleasant way – is her admission that her husband only started his own campaign to “best” Claire Wright’s ongoing crusade to keep local community hospitals open just to “piss her off”, and that he had no intention of following through with any of his promises. Perhaps something for those East Devonian and West Country Conservative voters to ponder on at the next election …
Mrs Swire appears not to realise what a hypocrite she is: for example, she berates Claire Wright for not being nice about her husband when he announces his intention to retire (apparently he needed to do this before his second-hand skills became too outdated). Then, in the next breath, as he is about to leave office, she retorts: “I feel elated that we don’t have to have anything to do with that cow again”.
Mr Swire comes across as – and I’m sure this comparison has been made elsewhere – a “Tim-Not-Nice-But-Dim” and she as someone who only values people according to their usefulness. If they disagree with her (eg Amber Rudd), she ruthlessly cuts them out of her life, though she is prepared to let them in again if they can prove to be of further use.
She laughs at one councillor who, thinking he is to accompany the police and crime commissioner (described as unimpressive) to meet Amber Rudd at a function, later threatens to pull out because he thinks Amber Rudd has been replaced by Arlene Phillips of Strictly Come Dancing; he doesn’t recognise the name of Arlene Foster from the Northern Ireland DUP.And she makes fun of the disabilities of older local Tory party members.
In fact, it transpires that Mrs Swire has other diaries from before and after this one. Which begs the question – why start in the middle?
Apparently, when Hugo was told they might lose friends because of the book, he said: “Well, we will have to buy new ones”. I hear the Kardashians are in the market …