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Sasha Swire’s payback diary is a sad tale indeed

By publishing her observations from life with an ex-Tory MP, she merely exposed their bitterness at not being major players, writes Hannah B

Sasha Swire's book details the numerous figures she met through husband Hugo's political career
Sasha Swire's book details the numerous figures she met through husband Hugo's political career Credit: Dominic O'Neill/Desmond O'Neill Features Ltd

I hate diaries, which are, by very definition, egotistical, self-justifying, forever failing to see the wood from the trees, and attempting to pass off the subjective as fact. If journalism is the first rough draft of history then the diary marks the first attempt to muddy the waters, get in there second, and present an eye-witness report too often of green-eyed intent.

Show me a diary and I will show you a spear carrier with a grudge. The people who write them tend to be frustrated types on the fringes, the main players too busy actually running the show. There’s a reason why teenagers relish the form, being petty, volatile, rebellious, obsessed with their own importance, insecure, hormonal, and largely ignored thus perpetually thwarted. Think Adrian Mole, Alan Clark and now Sasha Swire, author of this latest Diary of a Nobody.

Diary of an MP’s Wife will be released this Thursday. Accordingly, like the rest of the world, I am only acquainted with the parts that have been serialised, rumours regarding the rest of it, and the author’s Violet Elizabeth Bott-style cries that she didn’t mean to be horrid. However, as with all diaries, the effect is to make the reader feel slightly sick.

If any of us had our private exchanges recorded we’d all be in trouble. David Cameron’s actually come across as pretty anodyne: cack-handed middle-aged compliments; genuine expressions of warmth at getting to spend time with pals; downplaying his role as PM to less successful pals. Referring to her children “Saffron” and “Siena” as “Sauvignon” and “Chardonnay” – hilarious. As for watching Poirot over cheese on toast while stranded with friends during a snowstorm – I can think of no finer night.

Not wanting to out-Swire Swire, but I know some of the “Notting Hill set” from before the epithet became attached to them. I’m not a Tory, nor a Brexiteer, but Sarah Vine and Michael Gove are friends (I am their firstborn’s godmother). I have never written about them in my 20+ years of hackery precisely because they’re my friends, and the one thing I would wish them as friends is a private life – this being a point that Swire appears unable to grasp.

Anyway, if pushed (and I do feel pushed), I’d say that the entire enterprise smacks of sour grapes. Those who know their Aesop will remember the tale. A hungry fox sees clusters of delectable grapes dangling above her. She resorts to various tricks to lay claim to them, but fails. As she turns away, she resolves that said grapes must be sour. The fable is used to describe those who dismiss something they aspired to as not worth the having because it has proved unattainable.

In the extracts published thus far, one perceives Swire’s evident exhilaration at being on the edge of power while exhibiting a simultaneous fury that she is not the one wielding it; her diary a kamikaze attempt to re-write herself centre stage. Compare her faux-jokey acknowledgment: “To all the Cameroons for not mentioning me or barely mentioning me in their memoirs – this is payback!” She even appears to begrudge the Queen for not recognising her importance, noting: “She…swans past, not saying a word. She is telling me I am just a plus-one, not a player or heroine.” At which one longs to cry: “Well, yes, exactly!”

She rubbed shoulders with political heavyweights but Sasha Swire seemed frustrated not to be considered more important Credit: Alan Davidson/Shutterstock

For Swire isn’t even a spear carrier, merely a spear carrier to a spear carrier, her anecdotes frequently second-, even third-hand, from a not-entirely disinterested source. Her husband, Hugo, was a minister, but never a cabinet member, and she his political researcher. Both parties appear bitter about their lack of clout, brilliantly blaming it on Hugo being an Old Etonian – which doesn’t appear to have proved a problem for anyone else.

Again, without wanting to go Swire on all this, despite hanging out with a fair few Tories the only time I ever heard him referred to – once – was as a sort of benign village idiot, something his wife’s account rather backs up. Indeed, on the evidence of the diary and the press surrounding it, one feels “Dave” was right to exclude the pair from further power for being snobbish fools – hence their beef with the meritocratic Goves. Prior to the last couple of weeks, they could both consider themselves upstaged by Hugo’s sister, Sophia, aka “that woman who sold all the pashminas”.

They clearly knew the Camerons. As the diarist told an interviewer: “We did become great friends. I don’t know why.” Those with a touch more emotional intelligence might hazard a guess. What the Camerons liked about the Swires was that they were friends – not hacks, not rival politicos, “nobodies” in a sense, so they could relax, drop their guard, be themselves – only, it turns out, they couldn’t.

“David didn’t really have many friends in politics,” Swire added. He may now feel that he has none. In her diary, she bonds with the Duchess of Wessex regarding being overlooked. Our heroine declares that this happens to her all the time, and that her Slav blood means “I carry revenge in my heart until my dying day”. That’s about the sum of it.

Read more: Diary of an MP's Wife by Sasha Swire review