Following the departure of Dominic Cummings, there are claims Boris Johnson’s partner is the new power behind the throne
Ah, pillow talk. Where would some of our juiciest political stories be without that special ingredient which adds spice to many a tale in the telling?
Carrie Symonds, Boris Johnson’s live-in 10 Downing Street partner, is the latest lady in the loop. There are claims she’s the new power behind the throne, so to speak. More worryingly for her critics, she’s charged with doing far too much of Johnson’s thinking for him.
Obviously only the prime minister and Symonds know the true nature of what makes them tick. But the evidence from insiders is Johnson’s girlfriend is an increasingly influential figure at the heart of the British government.
She is credited with ‘seeing off’ the all-powerful ‘Svengali’ Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s confidante and fixer. His departure signals the biggest change in the prime ministerial power centre since the current regime took office.
When it comes to sniffing the political wind, Symonds is no neophyte. She is well weaned in the world of current affairs. Her father is a former newspaper editor – she grew up in a politically aware household.
Symonds has also been interacting with politicians for much of her adult life. Following on from work as a public relations consultant, she rose to be head of communications for the Tory party. She knows, and no doubt has views on, many of the MPs and officials hovering around Westminster.
Meanwhile, Johnson has been on the back foot over Covid, Brexit, and a collective of restless, unhappy backbenchers. His premiership has been in a state of dangerous drift. Polling suggests Keir Starmer and Labour have whittled away his once near-unassailable lead in the popularity stakes. Perhaps it was this growing sense of crisis which persuaded Carrie to have a word in Boris’s ear. The result was Cummings departing Downing Street. The symbolism of his very public exit will not be lost on others who cross the new power woman on the block.
At least that’s how her enemies see it. No doubt those close to her would argue the Cummings departure was essentially an accident waiting to happen. His idiosyncratic and maverick approach to wielding power was past its sell-by date. Suddenly he was a liability, rather than an asset, for Johnson.
The big question is, given her unelected status, will Symonds’s input into decision-making end up as a plus or a minus for the Johnson regime? Mixing the personal and professional has caused many a problem for politicians in the past. There is always a high risk she will alienate and irritate others around the PM – convinced she has an obvious advantage as they battle to have his ear.
History shows the Johnson-Symonds symmetry has precedent in Downing Street. Most famously, Marcia Falkender, unelected to any public office, played a well documented central role in the life of Harold Wilson for decades.
During his years as prime minister, Wilson’s wife, Mary, displayed near-zero interest in the political grind. She preferred writing poetry rather than getting all caught up in Westminster intrigue. By way of contrast, Marcia, over many years, was undoubtedly Wilson’s closest political confidante. But during their Downing Street tenure she provoked endless conflict with friend and foe alike.
Inevitably, rumours abounded ‘there was something going on’ between them. But such allegations were never proven. However, in 1967 Wilson sued pop group The Move when a promotional image for their song Flowers In The Rain depicted a caricature of Wilson in bed with Falkender. Their time together at the apex of British politics had a whiff of the mysterious. Did British intelligence use their relationship to hound Wilson from office on the grounds he was ‘a dangerous socialist’?
In the case of another prime minister, David Lloyd George’s life-long mistress Frances Stevenson helped shape his career. Often operating in the shadows, she was a bulwark of insight and support, through remarkable victories and stunning defeats.
Time will tell if Boris Johnson’s partner will become a power player whose influence is obvious to all. The evidence suggests she is both in his head and his heart.
As of now, they share a personal and and political destiny – why not make that journey together?