When Boris Johnson discovered recently that his new wife Carrie was to be the subject of a biography by Lord Ashcroft, he muttered loudly: ‘Well, she won’t like that.’
The nerves inside the Downing Street bunker are understandable.
Ashcroft’s unauthorised memoir of David Cameron in 2015 included a sensational claim that the future PM had taken part in an outrageous ‘initiation ceremony’, involving a dead pig’s head, for a riotous Oxford student society. (He later called the claim ‘false and ludicrous’.)
Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds arrive at Westminster Abbey for The Commonwealth Service
Pictures from social media accounts of Carrie Symonds, former Tory Party communications director. Symonds with Zac Goldsmith (L) and Sajid Javid
That book, Call Me Dave, was said to have been an act of political revenge by Ashcroft after a job he had allegedly been promised by Cameron never materialised.
So perhaps it is just as well for Carrie that there is no bad blood between Ashcroft and Boris – though equally she will be aware that they are not friends.
She, meanwhile, is sure to have come across the billionaire Ashcroft over the years – not least while she held an £80,000-a-year post as the Tories’ head of communications, having joined the party machinery as a humble press officer in 2009 while Ashcroft was the Conservative deputy chairman.
Ashcroft is well versed in the art of biography: his previous targets include Chancellor Rishi Sunak, chalkstriped Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg and, in a book due to be published next month, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
So will his work on Carrie be a hagiography that boosts her reputation around the country – or a hatchet job from which she will never recover? One source says: ‘Carrie is a colourful character and wields enormous power as first the PM’s girlfriend, then his wife. There is so much material out there, not all of it flattering.’
The first unmarried consort of the Prime Minister to live at Downing Street in recent history, Carrie – at 33 some 24 years younger than her husband – is arguably one of the most powerful and controversial occupants of that role in living memory.
She has a devoted group of friends who are not shy to brief the Press on her behalf. But her enemies, of whom there are many, insist she has too much sway over policy and appointments.
Ashcroft will have to navigate these camps. On the positive side, Carrie’s supporters say she is a shrewd political operator in her own right, having worked closely with Sajid Javid, now the Health Secretary, John Whittingdale, the culture minister, and Zac Goldsmith, a Foreign Office minister. Her critics, Carrie’s friends claim, are motivated by sexism.
But to her detractors, led by Boris’s erstwhile chief adviser Dominic Cummings, she is derided, perhaps indeed with a hint of sexism, as ‘Princess Nut Nut’. Cummings and Carrie, both unelected, clashed terribly in a power struggle within Downing Street following Boris’s election victory in 2019. Other cruel tags Carrie has attracted include ‘Cersei’, after the poisonous scheming Lannister queen in the hit TV series Game of Thrones – and even ‘Carrie Antoinette’, following revelations of her penchant for expensive interior decorations.
Cummings, who was forced out of his No 10 post last year, has rarely paused from criticising Carrie since. He will be high on Ashcroft’s list of potential sources.
Yet the biographer will be impressed by Carrie’s consistent support for the environment and animal rights, the latter a subject close to Ashcroft’s heart. Last summer, he sent her a copy of his book Unfair Game, which exposed the horrifying truth about captive-lion breeding.
Boris’s recent enthusiasm for all things environmental, and his ambitious targets to cut Britain’s carbon emissions – which have alarmed Tory MPs in northern ‘Red Wall’ seats because of the extra costs this will impose on households – are seen as a direct result of Carrie’s influence.
The privately-educated Carrie won praise from women’s rights groups for her crowdfunding campaign to block early parole for the black cab driver John Worboys.
Ashcroft said yesterday that Carrie had interested him for some time as a subject, rightly pointing out that she had been ‘influential’ in the party ‘long before she moved into No 10’ (Pictured, Lord Ashcroft leaves Conservative party headquarters)
The book is also sure to examine the Aspinall Foundation, the wildlife conservation charity for which Carrie is now the head of communications.
The Charity Commission has ‘serious concerns’ over the Aspinall’s Foundation’s governance and financial management; these allegations predate her employment.
Ashcroft said yesterday that Carrie had interested him for some time as a subject, rightly pointing out that she had been ‘influential’ in the party ‘long before she moved into No 10’.
Carrie’s stint as head of communications for the Tories ended unhappily in 2018 amid reports that she had abused her expenses to the tune of thousands of pounds. While she never responded to the claims, a source close to her dismissed the allegations as ‘nonsense’.
Boris and Carrie will tell their friends and associates to ignore Ashcroft’s calls. One source said: ‘Her friends are very loyal. No one will speak to Ashcroft.’
Or will they? Within hours of yesterday’s reports of the book going public, Ashcroft’s telephone in his London office was said to be ringing off the hook with offers of help.