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The shamelessness of today’s former leaders

Thatcher and Major: a “privately poisonous” relationship. Michael Putland/Getty

We are now spectators, says Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times, at an “ex-prime ministerial circular firing squad”. Last week there was Liz Truss on X (formerly Twitter) posting a long list of reasons why everything would be better if she, not Rishi Sunak, were in charge. A few days earlier, Theresa May (“remember her?”) popped up on the radio to promote a new book defending her own premiership, and putting the boot into Boris Johnson. On the same day, Johnson himself delivered a “thunderous rebuke” to the government for what he regarded as its “inadequate military support” for Ukraine.

There is nothing unusual in former Tory leaders “burning with resentment” at their replacements. But in the past, they didn’t feel the need to broadcast their bitterness. Ted Heath spent decades in what was called his “incredible sulk” at Margaret Thatcher, after she challenged his leadership and won – but at least it was “silent”. When Thatcher was deposed by John Major, their relationship too became “privately poisonous”. It was said by close allies that she “never had a happy day” after she left Downing Street, while Major grew resentful when she supposedly called him a “grey” man with “no ideas”. He privately ranted that she was “mad”, “loopy” and “emotional”. But, crucially, all this only came to light years later, after the diaries of a former No 10 advisor were published – Thatcher and Major themselves didn’t air their dirty laundry in public. What a shame the most recent crop of former leaders, desperate to remain at “the centre of public attention”, cannot show similar discretion.