There is something gloriously refreshing about an account of political failure in which nobody is trying to excuse or hide the buttock-clenching awfulness of it. But despite the refusal to indulge in self-pity, this is the most uncomfortable part of the book. The party would have crashed and burned without her putting her foot in it, but after all those years on Fleet Street did she really not know better? It’s impossible not to sympathise with the blameless colleagues forced, not for the first time, to clean up behind her. And, yes, all that does remind me of someone.
At the heart of the book is Rachel’s experiment with political activism as a passionate pro-European. After a brief flirtation with the Lib Dems (‘whatever the question was, they weren’t the answer’), she throws herself into the omnishambles of Change UK (remember them?) as a candidate in the 2019 European Parliament Election. The party has no money, no policies, and not a clue. Rachel describes herself as ‘the rat that jumps on the sinking ship’, and Change UK is duly extinguished in the poll.
There will be weightier political tomes this year than Rake’s Progress, but you will not read one more entertaining. Johnson is a gifted writer, playful, self-deprecating and far more talented than she gives herself credit for.
She has a highly developed sense of the absurd, including herself (an account of campaigning in Totnes is the pick of many laugh-out-loud moments).
There is a lot of fun here, though, largely because Rachel is not worried about causing offence. An unembarrassable oversharer, she seems determined to make others blush. She can’t resist mentioning the “full extent” of the Conservative minister Kwasi Kwarteng’s “manliness” (something Amber Rudd, his former girlfriend, apparently divulged) or cataloguing the ghastliness of Ann Widdecombe.
There is one place that she won’t tread, though: while Dilyn the Downing Street dog gets a mention, Boris’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds, does not.
Is this a good book? Well, it’s entertaining, with some nice turns of phrase — I loved her description of Annunziata Rees-Mogg as being “pale and serious as an El Greco” — and has a few revelations, including David Cameron’s creative swearing on the tennis court, although I’m not sure we needed seven paragraphs on Kay Burley’s hair and make-up routine, but the book I found myself wanting to read, which is underplayed here, would be about growing up in the family firm of Johnson & Sons.