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There’s nothing more captivating than a salacious, snobbish diary

Sasha Swire's memoir of the David Cameron years will be giving pleasure to readers in 50 years’ time, when weightier books are long gone

When’s the last time a friend asked you if you’d read a political memoir? Quite. But yesterday, unprompted, a non-political friend said gleefully, “Well, what about those diaries!” We knew she meant Sasha Swire’s fabulous memoir of the Cameron years, Diary of an MP’s Wife. The book hasn’t been published but the extracts have given more unbounded pleasure to more people than the entire Booker shortlist (I wish that were higher praise). Or rather, it’ll be more read than any of the authorised political biographies of the people it describes: way more than the memoirs of David Cameron, about which the most that can be said is that they’re still (I think) in print.

It’s the detail that’s so brilliant. There’s the recollection of Boris Johnson as a lonely figure: “He didn’t want us to go [after dinner]. David [Cameron] was always one for pushing you out the door, in quite a brusque way. For all his hinterland and hot young vixen [Carrie Symonds] Boris just came across as someone who is desperately lonely and unhappy on the inside.” Then there’s Mr Cameron gallantly joking that Sasha’s scent makes him want to push her in the bushes.

Almost as good as the diaries is the response from Sarah Vine, Michael Gove’s wife, who is fuming at being cast as “Poor old Sarah Gove, who bends over backwards to please the Camerons, was lumbered with cooking all the food while Samantha was upstairs learning to cut patterns (she wants to set up a fashion business). She then had her hair done!” Ooouf!

It’s all apparently artless, but as my friend drily observed, you don’t sit down at the end of the day and write all this stuff down without intending to make use of it. But what’s so brilliant is that the author is, all unconscious, one of the class she describes, which seems grand from the outside, less so really.

She is rightly annoyed that her father, Sir John Nott, a far more serious politician than her lot, didn’t get a peerage (her mother, who did great work in assisting Bosnian refugees, should have had one too), but she’s also annoyed that her husband only got a knighthood. There is nothing more captivating than a snob; Sasha Swire is right up there with Margot Asquith, wife of Herbert Asquith, in not being blessed to see herself as others see her. Which is why it’s all so enjoyable.

The truth is that diaries tell us more about an age than any political biography or journalism. It’s the personal take on events and people; letters ditto (though you won’t get them any more, alas). The diaries of Alan Clark are still enjoyable when the events of the Thatcher years are just footnotes. Evelyn Waugh’s diaries tell us more about his times than his novels. John Pope Hennessy’s unpublished notes for his authorised biography of Queen Mary make far more riveting reading than anything official. Further back, Samuel Pepys is one of the immortals because of the blessed indiscretion of his diaries.

Sasha Swire is, unsurprisingly, in the doghouse with her Tory friends: her husband nervously described their last dinner with the Camerons as the Last Supper, since there may not be other invitations. No matter. Her book will be giving pleasure to readers in 50 years’ time, when weightier books are long gone. Besides, her advance was reportedly bigger than theirs.