GEORGE WALDEN on the biggest scandal in Sasha Swire's political diary

GEORGE WALDEN: The biggest scandal in Sasha Swire’s political diary? That this entitled and frivolous clique of powerful politicians got to run Britain

The revelations in Lady Swire’s diaries about the goings-on in David Cameron’s circle of friends and supporters, have been described by some as scandalous. But let’s be clear about what we should actually be shocked at.

We all have chums we collect and keep up with, from school, university or work, but the so-called ‘chumocracy’ gathered round the former Prime Minister in Downing Street was something different.

For me, that was a cosy, self-serving clique of powerful politicians with similar views, usually from exclusive backgrounds, whose principal aim in life was to stay in their privileged magic circle and keep other people out.

The effects on the rest of us were very damaging indeed.

Cards on the table. My own chums reflect my background too – privileged, not in the conventional sense, but because I was lucky enough to grow up in the era of grammar and direct grant schools. (My ‘prep school’ was on a Dagenham estate.)

The Chumocracy: The ‘famously chillaxed’ Premier David Cameron with his Chancellor George Osborne

It was also a time when two-thirds of the entry to Oxford and Cambridge was from state schools, and entry into what we think of as leading professions – the law, the City, medicine, diplomacy – was widening. In many ways, we had a far more open elite than today.

So for me, the ‘scandal’ of Swire’s Diary Of An MP’s Wife: Inside And Outside Power, is not so much in their raucousness as their reek of entitlement in a supposedly democratic age.

As a former diplomat, I was struck by the gloriously insouciant passage where Sasha Swire says her hubby Hugo really ought to have been made Foreign Secretary – not because he was Cameron’s Old Etonian chum (that is taken for granted) but because Hugo was a charming fellow and had flown to lots of countries.

Before my career in politics, I was Principal Private Secretary to Lord Carrington, who was Foreign Secretary at the time. Like Cameron and Swire, Carrington was a charming Etonian. 

But he was also a man of vast international experience, not to mention having been a decorated tank commander in the Second World War, who behaved impeccably upon the outbreak of the Falklands War by taking responsibility and honourably resigning.

As a former diplomat, I was struck by the gloriously insouciant passage where Sasha Swire says her hubby Hugo (both pictured) really ought to have been made Foreign Secretary – not because he was Cameron’s Old Etonian chum (that is taken for granted) but because Hugo was a charming fellow and had flown to lots of countries

I am not horrified by Lady Swire’s multiple ‘indiscretions’. Given the strains and stresses of public life, a bit of behind-the-scenes boozing and cursing or a little lustful commentary fails to qualify as real scandal.

The occasional ribaldry, such as Cameron’s less-than-gallant comment to Lady Swire in the course of a walk that he wouldn’t mind ‘giving her one’ in the bushes, does not upset me as much as it perhaps should.

In fact, I sympathise with his remark in a radio interview about the book that if someone kept a record of our private banter we might all feel retrospectively embarrassed. 

Prime Ministers today are under far greater pressure than those in the past, not least from the media, and they are unlikely to relax by reading 19th Century novels before Question Time, as Harold Macmillan did in No 10.

Yet the diaries are mightily revealing, not just about a bunch of mates at the top of government, but something deeper, too. Recently, there has been a dangerous narrowing at the top of society, and this is what comes out in spades. 

It is not the somewhat fetid intimacy of this governing clique that is truly unsettling so much as the smallness of their world. Before he was ejected as a Brexiteer, state-educated Michael Gove appears to have been the most meritocratic member, as well as the most brainy.

For all David Cameron’s attempts to be chummy with the public, whether by telling us he is a huge fan of The Smiths, or denying that his wife was posh because she’d been to ‘day school’ (ie one that costs £20,000 a year), these diaries remind us just as forcibly how out of touch he and his chums were when they were supposedly looking after the interests of the British people

As for the rest, they behaved as if life and politics were all a bit of an upper-caste game, one with no serious consequences, win or lose.

I don’t expect accounts of profound intellectual exchanges with our famously ‘chillaxed’ former premier, but then nor do I expect upstairs/downstairs reflections about Gove’s wife, new Mail on Sunday columnist Sarah Vine, who features largely as someone expected to do the cooking.

The humour, too, is a problem. Relentless jokiness is one thing, and some of it is certainly funny, yet what sticks in the modern craw is an overpowering sense of flippancy, a kind of ultimate light-mindedness about everything and everyone. It comes out most clearly in Cameron’s intimation that his aim was not to go on and on in No 10, like earnest, lower middle class Mrs Thatcher. He wanted, it seems, to get in to Downing Street and get out.

It’s as if the summit of his ambition was not to serve his country as its leader for as long as the electorate wanted, but merely to have done it once. Who can be surprised if a similar whiff is beginning to emanate from his old schoolmate in No 10 today? 

Then, of course, there is the little matter of Lady Swire’s brazen betrayal of her closest friends, and her laughably unconvincing show of horror at the thought of how they might resent it.

I suspect she might have thought of that when she was compiling her material – day by day and meticulously, rather than making random jottings as she claims. That is another thing about our elite governmental cliques: the way they tend to rat on one another, old-school friends included, not infrequently for revenge or money.

Their pretensions are in many ways aristocratic, except that no one could accuse this lot of being trapped in out-of-dates codes of honour and decorum.

As it happens, I am about to re-publish a book I wrote 20 years ago called The New Elites: A Career In The Masses. Elites themselves are necessary and justifiable, but my book argued that Britain was increasingly run by an upper-caste of anti-elitists. You see this in the dumbing down of education. In government, you see it in the new casualness flaunted by expensively educated people at the top.

Yet for all Cameron’s attempts to be chummy with the public, whether by telling us he is a huge fan of The Smiths, or denying that his wife was posh because she’d been to ‘day school’ (ie one that costs £20,000 a year), these diaries remind us just as forcibly how out of touch he and his chums were when they were supposedly looking after the interests of the British people.

Being a snob is repugnant, but there is something worse: privileged folk who attempt to ingratiate themselves with the masses.

You see it in the Government but also in many of our actors, comedians, sportsmen and women, who increasingly have been to private schools. Well-educated, well-paid people who try to compensate for their comfortable backgrounds with Leftish, woke or prolier-than-thou affectations.

And what Lady Swire doesn’t say because she doesn’t see it, is that in the end it was an inner remoteness from the public that finally forced Cameron out of office after the 2016 referendum.

Lady Swire tells us of his rage and surprise when the result was announced. The rage I understand, but not the surprise. If you live your life in a cocoon of entitlement, you are not going to sense the wind getting up outside your window or how hard it is going to blow.

Whether you voted Leave or Remain is not the point. What mattered was that Cameron was so out of touch with real folk that he couldn’t imagine he might lose because large numbers of perfectly reasonable people, especially the less affluent, were understandably worried about immigration and were led to believe that a loud No to the EU would stop it.

I described this in a book I wrote as early as 2007 after a tour of the North (Time To Emigrate?). Struck by the feelings of fear, resentment and powerlessness that I encountered, I warned that ‘over-abrupt changes could evoke an extreme response’ with great consequences for our country. They certainly did, not least for ‘Dave’.

George Walden’s book The New Elites: A Career In The Masses, is published by Gibson Square, priced £9.99. To order a copy, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.

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