Cutting a flamboyant figure on the floor of the House of Commons with pithy but forcefully delivered interventions, Desmond Swayne has become something of a darling of ‘anti-lockdowners.’
But the former international development minister’s dalliance with Covid-denying street activists from Save Our Rights is far from his only brush with controversy.
As far back as 2006, when he was David Cameron’s private secretary, Swayne revealed his nicknames for backbenchers in a series of emails to the then head of the opposition.
In a leaked email he called a fellow MP “Mr Angry” and another a “mincehead”.
Swayne later alleged he was the victim of “very effective computer hacking.” He added: “I clearly regret any offence that has been given. I will have to use more moderate terms in the future.”
Some years later he would elicit laughter from fellow Tory MPs as he admitted to being “in some difficulty” after using his column in his constituency’s local paper to defend the then chancellor’s controversial plan to raise national insurance contributions for the self-employed.
Without his knowledge, the proposal was being scrapped in a government U-turn as the piece in the New Forest Journal went to the printers.
“As a slavish supporter of the government, I’m in some difficulty because my article robustly supporting the chancellor’s early policy in the Forest Journal is already with the printers,” Swayne said on the floor of the Commons.
He was in difficulties again two years later when he insisted that wearing blackface is an “entirely acceptable bit of fun” after admitting he had dressed up as soul singer James Brown for a fancy dress party.
Referring to a similar controversy that enveloped Canada’s prime minister, Swayne wrote in a blog post: “I suspect that Justin Trudeau’s cringing apology for blacking himself ‘blinded by his own white privilege’ has done him rather more harm than the original offence.
He initially refused to apologise, but later did so, admitting in an update to the same blog post: “Notwithstanding the rather crass and misjudged statement in this blog that I had no intention of apologising, nevertheless I did do so when contacted by the media. I make it clear that I am sorry for any offence that I gave, none was intended.”
The MP also referred to two letters from constituents with ethnic minority backgrounds, who he said had set out in moving testimony why they had been offended by the blog and gave an insight from their own experience.
Trouble has also come from a trait he shared with the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg: a love of slouching during Commons discussions. In 2017, after he was photographed apparently nodding off during a speech by Ken Clarke, Swayne said he was embarrassed and “annoyed” with himself.