April 6, 2021

Boris Johnson is labeled an “embarrassing buffoon” in a new political memoir


A new memoir from government insider Sir Alan Duncan is causing waves in the UK, attacking prominent Conservative politicians, including current Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Sir Alan Duncan served as an MP for 27 years, for a time as deputy to then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Duncan resigned in July 2019 ahead of Johnson becoming prime minister, and retired as an MP later that year. Considered a right-wing libertarian, Duncan publicly came out as gay in 2002, the first ever Conservative MP to do so, and he sided against Brexit. In his 2019 resignation letter he wrote:

“It is tragic that just when we could have been the dominant intellectual and political force throughout Europe, and beyond, we have to spend every day working beneath the dark cloud of Brexit.”

Now, in his memoir In The Thick of It: The Private Diaries of  a Minister which covers his final four years in government from the eve of the Brexit Referendum in 2016 to the end of 2019, he has cuttingly criticised those he had first-hand experience working with. Of then Prime Minister, Theresa May, he writes:

“She was pretty wooden, as she always is. You never quite know what’s churning away beneath her undemonstrative demeanour.”

Of the extremely unpopular Priti Patel, the current Home Secretary whose new asylum plans include deporting anyone deemed to reach the UK by illegal routes (see “One cannot travel illegally if one is seeking asylum“) he says: “She really is a nothing person” and later “She is clearly a complete and utter nightmare.”

And this on Michael Gove, current Minister for the Cabinet Office: “There’s something so socially unaware about him: it lies somewhere between shameless and synthetic.”

Now onto the star of the show, Boris Johnson. Duncan does not hide his loathing of the man, whom he had to work closely beside, calling him, among others names, selfish, ill-disciplined and a clown. To read such views coming from within the Conservative party itself is sobering stuff. Snippets of his takedowns, as serialised in the Daily Mail include:

21st February 2016 [in the lead-up to the referendum]: It’s typical of [Boris] — creating a media circus around himself, fuelling speculation while keeping others in the dark and then coming out on the populist side, despite it being perfectly clear he doesn’t believe any of this guff. The long-term Eurosceptics don’t trust him, and his self-serving ambition is blatant. But it will play well with the Tory base, which is all he cares about.

27 March 2017: Reception [in Antalya, Turkey]. Dinner. Unfortunately BoJo’s speech was just embarrassing. He made incomprehensible public school quips which cannot be translated, and banged on about being a supportive buttress, assisting the EU from outside it, which came over to the Turks in translation as “a supportive bucket.”

Saturday, September 24 2017: [Boris] despises May, and thinks he is the next Churchill. He has a self-deluding mock-romantic passion which is not rooted in realism. He is disloyal. His comedy routine has gone stale; his lack of seriousness in a serious job rankles; and he has little following among MPs. He seems to have embarked on a reckless journey into oblivion.

I try to be the dutiful number two, but have lost any respect for him. He is a clown, a self-centred ego, an embarrassing buffoon, with an untidy mind and sub-zero diplomatic judgement. He is an international stain on our reputation. He is a lonely, selfish, ill-disciplined, shambolic, shameless clot.

Duncan clearly has nothing to lose now, and is happy to air as much dirty laundry as possible, although the books has been ignored by newspapers including The Telegraph, The Times and Sunday Times, Economist and The Sun. I wonder why these papers, owned by tory billionaires, want to pretend the book doesn’t exist? No matter, actions do not seemingly have consequences in tory-land, with politicians literally breaking the law left, right and centre and getting away with it. Can anything hold them accountable?


Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.