In The Thick of It, by Alan Duncan MP (Book Review) | Roshan Chandy

Alan Duncan spews out the bile in this entertaining political diary, but lacks the substance of one of the great memoirs.

If you want a book that reeks of the heartache and crushed ambitions of a Westminster politician, Alan Duncan’s ‘In the Thick of It’ is that. The Tory MP for Rutland and Melton always desired a post in the cabinet, but was consistently pushed aside. He makes his desire for revenge on those who took his place quite clear. What he lacks is the political clout, realism and documentarianism to be accessible to political outsiders.

‘In the Thick of It’ is a Private Eye-worthy pastiche of funny politician descriptions with a grandly mocking, occasionally self-mocking tone. Those who love their political cartoons and caricatures will lap up the amount of bile spewed against famous cabinet ministers and MPs as though they were on ‘Have I Got News for You?’. The vitriol is often directed at politicians’ appearances, words and actions. Priti Patel is the “Wicked witch of Witham”, Michael Gove “An unctuous freak” and John Bercow “Speaker Hobbit”. The Daily Mail – one of the Tory party’s most ardent supporters – is dismissed as the “Daily Hate”. Boris Johnson is a “clown, a self-centred ego, an embarrassing buffoon” and “an international stain on our reputation”. Meanwhile David Cameron is a “total wanker”.

If you sometimes find political memoirs a bit big and clunky to get though, you’ll probably enjoy Duncan’s style of writing in short paragraphs with the diary dates written at the top. The action spurs from shortly after the Brexit referendum right up until the early days of the Covid-19 Pandemic in March 2020. Here, Duncan unleashes his bitterness, his contempt and crushed ambitions at never making it into the cabinet. He talks about how he lost out to the post of Defence Secretary with particular relish; bringing out the big guns and burns on Gavin Williamson who is “Venomous, self-serving little sh**t”.

Back to Priti now who gets quite a rough deal in this book and, in my opinion, unfairly so. Not only is she the “Wicked Witch of Witham”, but “Priti Appalling”, “Priti Horrendous” and a “Brassy Monster”. Duncan needs to treat female politicians with more respect. He goes on to describe Theresa May as “Lady Nugee” and Emily Thornberry as “Lady Nugee-Thornberry”. More to the point, though, how dare he insult my girl Priti Patel?!

​I enjoyed the caricatures and cartoonishness of this book. It clearly shows Duncan has a lot of wit and is a very witty man; albeit a very shallow one given most of his vitriol is aimed at people’s looks. Without question, this book paints him as a rather pathetic, self-centred narcissist with a severe victim complex.

 Where I’m less keen on this diary is more simplistic than the amount of bile getting tedious, but that it really lacks the insight, clout and documentary grit of a great political commentary. This isn’t a patch on Margaret Thatcher’s ‘The Downing Street Years’ which painted a gruelling portrait of her 11 years at No.10. Even David Cameron’s ‘For the Record’ got right inside the head of the man who lost Europe.

 Duncan touches on many recent political events such as the pointless 2017 election, the Grenfell tower fire and Theresa May’s many disastrous conference speeches. However, he devotes precious little time to any of them; casting them aside as though they are pins on a crime map. Many of his comments about politics in general are superficial and lack substance. I really wish he’d endeavoured to explore the Remainer vs. Leaver rift that ripped through the Tory Party for nearly 50 years (Duncan voted “No” in the original vote to join the EEC).

 If you didn’t quite know what they were voting for in the Referendum back in 2016, you’re unlikely to gain much more of an understanding from reading this book. Despite voting Leave, I still feel clueless about the benefits and pitfalls of Brexit. Certainly more clueless than the actual politicians.

When a book is meant to inform about recent history and fails to do so, that’s a failure on the writer’s part. And Duncan must take the fall for that…

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