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LORD ASHCROFT: Carrie Johnson’s behaviour is preventing the Prime Minister leading Britain

When I wrote to Carrie Johnson last summer to let her know I was planning a book about her, she told me: ‘I do not consider myself a public figure and try to be as private as I possibly can.’

But as the first prime ministerial consort with a political career of her own, I believe she easily warrants a biography.

Indeed, as the Conservative Party‘s communications director and special adviser to two government ministers, she was an influential figure long before she moved into No 10 Downing Street in July 2019.

Of course, when I set out to learn more about her, I could have had no idea that six months later she would find herself accused by an increasing number of people of being involved in a series of scandals which threaten to derail her husband’s premiership.

I had no agenda other than to write accurately about what I found – but what I found surprised me.

When I wrote to Carrie Johnson last summer to let her know I was planning a book about her, she told me: ‘I do not consider myself a public figure and try to be as private as I possibly can.’ But as the first prime ministerial consort with a political career of her own, I believe she easily warrants a biography. Pictured: The Johnsons following their private wedding ceremony

As the Conservative Party 's communications director and special adviser to two government ministers, she was an influential figure long before she moved into No 10 Downing Street in July 2019. Pictured: The Johnsons at Conservative Party Conference, Manchester Central

 As the Conservative Party ‘s communications director and special adviser to two government ministers, she was an influential figure long before she moved into No 10 Downing Street in July 2019. Pictured: The Johnsons at Conservative Party Conference, Manchester Central

Two of Carrie’s former headmistresses describe her in the book as quiet and hard-working, but not particularly memorable.

However, her evident ambition soon came to the fore, and she quickly made an impression after joining Tory HQ as a press officer at the age of 22.

It was there that she also emerged as a rather divisive figure. Some colleagues felt that she considered herself above them – there is a story that she claimed she had fractured her leg as a ruse to wangle a better hotel during a party conference – and her vivacity was felt to be at odds with the more routine duties of the press office. Perhaps her undoubted ability to charm journalists and MPs inspired envy.

Carrie hit her stride professionally in 2015, becoming special adviser to Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and later to Housing Secretary Sajid Javid, before taking charge of the party’s communications in 2017, aged just 29.

Despite her impressive rise to such a senior post, it now seems clear that her heart wasn’t really in it.

Within months she tried, unsuccessfully, to get a new job advising the Foreign Secretary – one Boris Johnson. Their relationship began soon after.

Then she lost her post at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) after being accused of fiddling her expenses and taking too much holiday. Ironically, it was only after she left day-to-day politics that she became noticeably powerful.

After the crushing Tory general election victory that December, the PM's chief adviser Dominic Cummings was approached by a colleague for a congratulatory chat. But Cummings, convinced that Carrie had a dangerous hold over his boss, was downbeat. Pictured: The Johnsons and Mr Cummings on election night 2019

After the crushing Tory general election victory that December, the PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings was approached by a colleague for a congratulatory chat. But Cummings, convinced that Carrie had a dangerous hold over his boss, was downbeat. Pictured: The Johnsons and Mr Cummings on election night 2019

The accounts I have heard of the way she interfered in Johnson’s leadership campaign in 2019 are staggering, as are the effect of her strong opinions on staffing matters once the couple had reached Downing Street.

After the crushing Tory general election victory that December, the PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings was approached by a colleague for a congratulatory chat. But Cummings, convinced that Carrie had a dangerous hold over his boss, was downbeat.

‘This is a disaster,’ he said. ‘Watch Carrie go to work on [Boris] now. I give it six months before we’re out of a job.’

In fact, Cummings lasted 11 months, but throughout that time Johnson grew increasingly exasperated with Carrie’s meddling.

Johnson grew increasingly exasperated with her meddling 

Today, the police are investigating Partygate, in which she seems to have been a player. This comes after Wallpapergate, in which she was instrumental.

It also follows the scandal over animals from Pen Farthing’s charity being rescued from Afghanistan when human lives were at stake. Some who lobbied for this have spoken openly of her involvement.

Carrie’s courage and determination have also been in evidence.

No one can doubt her commitment to causes close to her heart, such as animal welfare – an interest which I share.

Her campaign against the release from prison of the serial sex criminal John Worboys was admirable and brave – not least because she was effectively working against the decision of a Conservative government while employed by the party.

Carrie’s openness and honesty in being willing to talk about a miscarriage in 2021 is also rightly praised.

When I set out to learn more about her, I could have had no idea that six months later she would find herself accused by an increasing number of people of being involved in a series of scandals which threaten to derail her husband's premiership. Pictured: Mr Johnson, his wife and staff pictured with wine in Downing Street garden in May 2020

When I set out to learn more about her, I could have had no idea that six months later she would find herself accused by an increasing number of people of being involved in a series of scandals which threaten to derail her husband’s premiership. Pictured: Mr Johnson, his wife and staff pictured with wine in Downing Street garden in May 2020

The complaints are levelled at her apparent desire to exercise power and patronage without the accountability that ought to go with it. Her friends have often dismissed criticism of Carrie as simply sexist, but this won’t do.

For one thing, such comment is by no means the preserve of men – female journalists including Camilla Long and Rachel Sylvester have written about her in critical or sceptical terms in recent days.

For another, her actions have adversely affected real people’s careers – not least those of other women.

And most importantly, the questions at stake are too important to be brushed aside.

Many of the sources who contributed to my biography had kept their stories about Carrie private until now. Some even said they were motivated to talk because it was in the public interest to do so.

Many of the sources who contributed to my biography had kept their stories about Carrie private until now. Some even said they were motivated to talk because it was in the public interest to do so

Many of the sources who contributed to my biography had kept their stories about Carrie private until now. Some even said they were motivated to talk because it was in the public interest to do so

As Caroline Slocock, once private secretary to John Major and Margaret Thatcher, pointed out on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour: If the PM believed the notorious Downing Street garden gathering of May 2020 was a work event, what was Carrie doing there – unless she is involved in his political decisions?

My intention is not to destabilise the Prime Minister. I want him to govern to the best of his abilities.

The buck stops with him – but the evidence I have gathered suggests his wife’s behaviour is preventing him from leading Britain as effectively as the voters deserve.

Friends of Johnson and his former wife, Marina Wheeler QC, say they cannot imagine so many scandals existing if she were with him now. ‘Marina was a very important influence on Boris,’ one said.

Her actions have adversely affected other women’s careers 

He has gone from being with a maternal figure who managed him rather like a chief executive to an arrangement where Carrie ‘who is demanding rather than supplying’.

This person goes on: ‘I think it’s the biggest explanation of the dysfunctionality inside Number 10.’

Readers of my book can judge for themselves what Carrie’s actions say about her relationship with the PM and what they mean for the way Britain has been run under his premiership.

One of his closest Cabinet allies has told sources quoted in my book that they believe Carrie is ‘the No 1 problem’ in Johnson’s administration.

Many will wonder if it would be better for the country if the minister in question had the courage to tell the PM this to his face.

As for Carrie Johnson, if she wants to help decide what the Government does and who works in it, maybe she should think about standing for election.

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For information about his work visit lordashcroft.com.

Follow him on Twitter and Facebook: @LordAshcroft.


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