UK

DAN HODGES warns: Boris Johnson needs to stop his fiancée meddling… or give her a real No 10 job

The roadmap to recovery has been successfully delivered. And now, for the first time since the Election, the political pathway for Boris Johnson is clear. Land the budget. Unlock Britain. Complete a bold reshuffle of the Cabinet.

Oh, and one other thing. Either build a garret at the top of Downing Street and lock Carrie Symonds inside it. Or give her a serious job at the heart of Government.

Over the past couple of weeks the nation has been fully focused on Covid. But the eyes of Westminster have been elsewhere. 

In what has now become something of a ritual, the Prime Minister’s fiancee and her influential inner circle have again been flexing their muscles. This time their target has been Oliver Lewis, Johnson’s senior aide responsible for the Union. 

Dan Hodges warns that the PM should give his fiancee a role within Number 10 

Lewis, nicknamed Sonic because of his resemblance to the computer-game character Sonic the Hedgehog, handed in his resignation after it was reported he’d been accused of ‘briefing against the Government’.

But it was a smokescreen. His actual crime was to be one of the last key lieutenants of Dom Cummings, who was himself purged with most of his own allies by Ms Symonds and her supporters in November.

So, in time-honoured fashion, Cummings’s supporters hit back. Their target – Dilyn, Ms Symonds’s treasured rescue puppy.

The dog had been running amok, causing almost £1,000 of damage at Chequers, it was briefed. Boris was enraged, but too fearful to act. At which point a third act was ritualistically played out.

Ms Symonds’s cheerleaders popped up again, and trotted out a well-worn mantra. She was a victim of sexism, they insisted. Yes, she’s a seasoned political operator in her own right. But all she’s been doing is loyally supporting her partner, just as other prime ministerial spouses have done.

 If this all sounds insane – especially given the nature of the crisis currently facing the nation – it’s because it is. But it also accurately reflects the dysfunctionality that currently resides at the heart of Downing Street.

In what has now become something of a ritual, the Prime Minister’s fiancee and her influential inner circle have again been flexing their muscles. This time their target has been Oliver Lewis, Johnson’s senior aide responsible for the Union, pictured.

In what has now become something of a ritual, the Prime Minister’s fiancee and her influential inner circle have again been flexing their muscles. This time their target has been Oliver Lewis, Johnson’s senior aide responsible for the Union, pictured.

Dysfunctionality that has been playing out since before Boris even formally entered No 10. It was in June 2019 that I first wrote about the splits between his official leadership campaign team and ‘Team Carrie’.

It was all quite interesting and colourful back then, the sort of gossip we political insiders publicly eschew, but privately devour.

But the hypocrisy, sycophancy and mendacity that attends the ongoing Carrie psychodrama is now getting tedious. And the time has come for the Prime Minister to get a grip on it. Before that can be done, a couple of home truths have to be delivered. The first is that Ms Symonds and her friends need to be told to stop playing people for fools. In particular, they need to drop the fiction – deployed when it’s deemed convenient for their purposes, then rapidly dispensed with when it isn’t – that she is just another No 10 spouse. She is not.

 If this all sounds insane – especially given the nature of the crisis currently facing the nation – it’s because it is. But it also accurately reflects the dysfunctionality that currently resides at the heart of Downing Street.

The PMs fiancée has been accused of running Downing Street with rescue dog Dilyn

The PMs fiancée has been accused of running Downing Street with rescue dog Dilyn 

Dysfunctionality that has been playing out since before Boris even formally entered No 10. It was in June 2019 that I first wrote about the splits between his official leadership campaign team and ‘Team Carrie’.

It was all quite interesting and colourful back then, the sort of gossip we political insiders publicly eschew, but privately devour.

But the hypocrisy, sycophancy and mendacity that attends the ongoing Carrie psychodrama is now getting tedious. And the time has come for the Prime Minister to get a grip on it. Before that can be done, a couple of home truths have to be delivered. The first is that Ms Symonds and her friends need to be told to stop playing people for fools. In particular, they need to drop the fiction – deployed when it’s deemed convenient for their purposes, then rapidly dispensed with when it isn’t – that she is just another No 10 spouse. She is not.

And we know this because her allies are forever burning up the speed-dial to favoured journalists to tell them she isn’t.

Last August they were claiming that it was Ms Symonds who had stepped in to prevent Boris ditching important transgender legislation. A couple of months later they were reporting how she had vetoed Boris appointing another Cummings ally, Lee Cain, as his chief of staff. Then how she’d brutally ousted Cummings himself. Ms Symonds has her own independent communications operation, and her own informal political structure inside No 10. She’s used her clout to block senior Downing Street appointments. And she’s successfully fashioned her own independent power base.

The idea that Norma Major, Denis Thatcher or Philip May played similar spousal roles is a fantasy.

Whenever this is highlighted, Ms Symonds’s allies immediately take to the barricades, briefing any and all that criticism is motivated by gender prejudice.

Mr Cummings carried his belongings out of No10's famous front door in a cardboard box in November

Mr Cummings carried his belongings out of No10’s famous front door in a cardboard box in November

But as one of Cummings’s former Vote Leave allies caustically explained last week: ‘We wish Carrie and Dilyn well. We just don’t think they should be running No 10 in the midst of a deadly pandemic.’

The truth is Team Cummings aren’t spinning against Ms Symonds because she’s a woman. It’s spinning against her because she’s been giving them a good shoeing.

Cummings. Cain. Lewis: The seasoned architects of Brexit went head to head with the PM’s fiancee. And she ran straight over them.

Which brings us to another important truth. Carrie Symonds is a proper political player. She is, to use the parlance of American elite sports, ‘a baller’. She ruthlessly took out Deadly Dom.

Ms Symmonds is the subject of the cover of the latest edition of Tatler

Ms Symmonds is the subject of the cover of the latest edition of Tatler 

She’s stripped the Vote Leave architecture out of Downing Street, and replaced it with her own network.

And even some of her critics acknowledge that in the wake of last autumn’s ‘Carrie Coup’, life in Government has been getting back on a more even keel. ‘Things are calmer and more organised,’ one Cabinet Minister told me. ‘It’s more serious. People are less afraid of taking decisions.’

But in Downing Street, the clashes between the formal operation and Ms Symonds’s shadow administration persist.

The official line is that the PM’s new chief of staff, Dan Rosenfield, is bringing a steadying hand to proceedings. But no one inside Government I spoke to last week was buying it. ‘When Dan’s in meetings there’s a lot of eye-rolling from Carrie’s people,’ a friend of Rosenfield told me.

The official line is that the PM’s new chief of staff, Dan Rosenfield, (pictured right with PM Boris Johnson in Cabinet meeting) is bringing a steadying hand to proceedings

The official line is that the PM’s new chief of staff, Dan Rosenfield, (pictured right with PM Boris Johnson in Cabinet meeting) is bringing a steadying hand to proceedings

All of which means Boris now has a clear choice. He can order Ms Symonds to stop meddling with his Government. Or he can be bold.

Some insiders claim he’s tried laying down the law. To little effect. ‘He’s told Carrie to stop briefing people, but she won’t,’ a Cummings supporter tells me.

But others say Boris won’t dare act. ‘What can he do? You can’t sack your fiancee, can you?’ says an MP.

Fine. Then he should go one better. ‘If Carrie wasn’t engaged to Boris, she’d be working for him’ is another favoured soundbite of Ms Symonds’s friends. So it’s time to put that to the test, and give her a formal role.

Some will argue that such patronage would be inappropriate. But key No 10 political appointments are, and always have been, the gift of the Prime Minister of the day. Another argument is that it would smack of cronyism. But Tony Blair’s appointment of his old flatmate as Lord Chancellor and David Cameron’s ‘chumocracy’ did neither man any harm.

No one boasts a better CV than Carrie Symonds says Dan Hodges

No one boasts a better CV than Carrie Symonds says Dan Hodges 

A third disincentive is the poor ‘optics’ of a Prime Minister’s partner holding such influence. But the optics of her influence are already splashed daily across every newspaper in the country – including the next edition of Tatler.

The real question people need to ask is this. If you were appointing a senior member of the Prime Minister’s staff, what would you look for? Someone with good political judgment. With their own wide base of contacts. Who has high-level political experience. Who can secure the ear of the PM. And who can earn and maintain his trust.

On that basis, who can boast a better CV than Ms Symonds?  

And there is another compelling reason why this appointment needs to be made. If it isn’t, it’s all going to end in tears.

The PMs fiancée has been accused of running Downing Street with rescue dog Dilyn

The PMs fiancée has been accused of running Downing Street with rescue dog Dilyn

Last week the Bow Group – the oldest Tory think-tank – put out a statement calling for an investigation of Ms Symonds’s role. A spokesman said: ‘She has not been elected, she has not been appointed, she holds no legal or constitutional powers to make decisions relating to who should hold Government posts, to be party to privileged information, or to set the policy direction of the country.’

This call was – inevitably – dismissed as the chuntering of a bunch of dandruff-laden old sexist curmudgeons.

But, unfortunately, those dandruff-laden curmudgeons are right. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Prime Minister’s fiancee, friend, former flatmate, or former pot-plant. If you’re exerting significant influence over a Government that is literally taking life-and-death decisions for every man, woman and child in the country, then you have to do so within a framework of proper accountability and scrutiny.

In a mature, modern democracy that shouldn’t even be a subject for debate.

There are also reports of ‘tensions’ between Ms Symonds and Press Secretary Allegra Stratton

There are also reports of ‘tensions’ between Ms Symonds and Press Secretary Allegra Stratton

Because we have been here before. Margaret Thatcher and her economics guru Alan Walters; the Blairs and Carole Caplin. Whenever the formal structures of No 10 governance are bypassed, the result is eventually the same. Chaos and catastrophe for the Prime Minister.

It’s time for Boris to recognise this. And he should recognise something else.

He’s going to need Carrie Symonds. At the moment, things are heading in the right direction. The vaccination program is ploughing ahead. Labour and Sir Keir Starmer are nowhere.

The Covid Recovery Group and other backbench malcontents are nursing their wounds. But soon political normality will begin to reassert itself.

And this is a Government that has been in power for a decade, with a crippling deficit, an uncertain economic outlook, and no Brexit glue to cement its Northern Red Wall.

Ms Symonds pictured outside No 10 Downing Street

Ms Symonds pictured outside No 10 Downing Street 

The Prime Minister is going to have to rely on serious operators and street fighters.

And despite her occasional flirtation with woke politics, Ms Symonds is certainly one of those.

She’s the woman who took on the toughest street fighter of all – Dom Cummings – and finished with his head mounted on her wall.

Boris needs her by his side, not traversing the environmental lecture circuit on behalf of blue whales.

‘If Carrie wasn’t engaged to Boris she’d be working for him,’ her allies insist. It’s time she was both.


Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button