A mammoth mess
I have at last completed my immersion in recent Conservative Party politics. Not a very pleasant experience—that is, if Sir Alan Duncan, ex-Tory MP and minister is anything to go by, in his increasingly manic diaries (In The Thick Of It). Very few people come out of this tome with much credit, indeed I think the only people who do are those who agree with Sir Alan, particularly on the subject of Brexit, which dominates the second half of the book. And increasingly makes it repetitive and boring. Duncan was a foreign office minister during most of the time covered (2016-2019). Apart from being around to prop up as best he could the premiership of Theresa May he spends most of his time jetting around the world, and though it’s not part of his brief, to the Middle East. His oil state connections are kept fresh, but since we don’t learn what he took up in the private sector after he left parliament in 2019 it’s hard, though not impossible to surmise that he may be floating around the oil business again. This association may explain why in the entire book he only mentions the phrase climate change once, and then only to criticise Extinction Rebellion who briefly held up some London traffic but perhaps more importantly threatened to close down Heathrow, a place where the carbon footprint of Duncan’s shoe leather alone probably equals the annual output of Sheffield (to pick a city at random). The vitriol he dishes out to his Tory colleagues is far more heartfelt than what he serves up for Labour MPs. He should be banned from the Carlton Club pronto. Some of his contempt befalls Andrea Jenkyns, the Tory MP for Morley and Outwood (so a partial successor of mine). “The ghastly Andrea Jenkyns MP is calling for Theresa May to be challenged. She is a brainless nothing.” (9/7/18) Later on we learn that Jenkyns is a “fucking idiot.” She may well be, but at least had sufficient grey matter to defeat my other partial successor, who was widely considered to be the brains behind everything.
Duncan makes out that he never felt too miffed at never making it into the Cabinet, despite having been so loyal to his leaders. Sadly his denials are somewhat undermined by his continual references to not being promoted and indeed to the lack of merit of most of those who are. He was perhaps seen as being a bit up himself. One gets a glimpse (amongst innumerable glimpses) of his ego when he writes (4/6/19) after attending a royal banquet for President Trump “There are some great photos of the banquet in the Daily Telegraph, in which James [Duncan’s partner] and I are both clearly visible.” I would have thought that probably wasn’t worth mentioning. But as I have said before, Duncan deserves credit for openly supporting Palestine, and indeed for also being the first Tory MP to come out as gay.
What can one take away from this volume? Obviously Brexit was (and remains) a toxic issue for the country, and Duncan’s diaries show how toxic it was for the Tory Party. Perhaps now they think they have cleansed themselves of any pro-European instinct, and with their majority and charismatic leader will lead the UK to some Olde Engerland arcadia. But these diaries show how diminished the Conservative Party is, with an intake of new Johnson-indebted MPs who have swelled the ranks of a small minded cabal, which as the recent vote on slashing foreign aid demonstrated has no concept of the inter-connectedness of global problems. They will find they can’t run away from these problems which are multiplying at an alarming rate. New royal yachts and anti-Chinese rhetoric won’t cut it. At some point they will be defeated, and what a mammoth mess will be left for somebody to clean up.
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