Written by Mark Landler and Stephen Fortress
Of all of the unsavory moral questions swirling round Prime Minister Boris Johnson lately, the one which has caught is how he paid for the expensive makeover of his condominium in Downing Road. And it has put his 33-year-old fiancée, Carrie Symonds, beneath a very scorching highlight.
Johnson, 56, has been accused in news experiences of secretly utilizing funds from a Conservative Celebration donor to complement his public finances for redecorating the condominium — a cost that, though Johnson says he has repaid the cash, has prompted an investigation by Britain’s Electoral Fee. However it’s Symonds and her purportedly costly style in wallpaper and designer furnishings that has grow to be a operating theme on social media and in British tabloids.
“#CarrieAntoinette” is trending as a Twitter hashtag, whereas the chief of the Labour Celebration, Keir Starmer, had himself photographed finding out wallpaper on the British division retailer John Lewis — a labored stunt meant to make mild of experiences that Symonds derided the Downing Road décor left by Johnson’s no-nonsense predecessor, Theresa Might, as a “John Lewis furnishings nightmare.”
By no means thoughts that Symonds has not really been quoted saying something about John Lewis. The reference, in a profile of her in Tatler journal, is attributed to an unnamed one who as soon as visited her within the condominium. Tatler reported that Symonds oversaw the renovation challenge, and her involvement means she, too, could have to show over proof to the Electoral Fee.
For Symonds, a former Conservative Celebration communications chief who now works for an animal rights group, it’s the newest trial in a yr overstuffed with dramatics: the near-fatal sickness of Johnson after he contracted the coronavirus; the delivery of their son, Wilfred; and the bitter purging of Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, by which she is reported to have performed a behind-the-scenes position.
All of it has put Symonds on the coronary heart of a well-known narrative, one replete with sexism and double requirements: the greedy, manipulative politician’s accomplice. She joins a parade of ladies, from Hillary Clinton to Cherie Blair, spouse of Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose murmurings to their males had been the topic of fevered suspicion.
The information that her relationship with Johnson coincided with the breakup of his 25-year marriage and that she grew to become the primary single accomplice to maneuver into Downing Road solely add to Symonds’ tabloid portrayal as a libertine Woman Macbeth or an upwardly cell Marie Antoinette — select your cliché.
“The outsized fascination with Carrie Symonds’ position within the prime minister’s circle displays outdated sexist tropes that regard ladies in positions of affect as inherently devious,” stated Sophia Gaston, director of the British Overseas Coverage Group and a analysis fellow on the London College of Economics.
Her defenders say that as an completed political participant in her personal proper, Symonds has no much less proper to supply recommendation to the prime minister than some other unpaid adviser — and he can be sensible to take it.
And but, others say, there are professional inquiries to ask about Symonds’ affect, which works past the news media’s obsessive give attention to dwelling enhancements at Downing Road. Her ardent protection of animal rights was reported to have contributed to the federal government’s resolution to halt a cull of badgers in Derbyshire, which contradicted the recommendation of scientists and veterinarians.
Pals of Symonds have been put in in key positions in Downing Road and, within the telling of Cummings, protected by her even after proof of wrongdoing. On his weblog, he claimed that Johnson needed to close down a leak investigation after it grew to become clear that the offender was Henry Newman, a detailed adviser to Symonds.
Cummings quoted Johnson as saying to him, “If Newman is confirmed because the leaker, then I should fireplace him, and this may trigger me very severe issues with Carrie, as they’re finest pals.”
Downing Road has denied that Johnson tried to close down the investigation, but it surely didn’t remark about Symonds’ position.
Her defenders say she has a savvy political sense and will effectively have aspired to a seat in Parliament if she hadn’t begun a relationship with Johnson. To the extent that she is giving him recommendation, some say, it’s useful: Chopping unfastened Cummings and different hard-core Brexiteers softened the prime minister’s picture and improved his recognition earlier than the current ethics points pulled him again to his extra acquainted position as a political scalawag.
Symonds labors beneath a couple of handicaps, one among which is the shortage of a job description for a chief minister’s accomplice. The position has no constitutional standing, and in contrast to that of first girl in the USA, little administrative assist. Profitable spouses have often had sturdy identities outdoors Downing Road.
Margaret Thatcher’s husband, Denis, was a businessman, as is Might’s husband, Philip. David Cameron’s spouse, Samantha, ran a vogue firm, whereas Cherie Blair, who as soon as had her personal political ambitions, labored as a high-level barrister throughout her husband’s decade in workplace. Though Cherie Blair’s affect got here beneath criticism early on, the scrutiny subsided as she constructed a flourishing authorized profession.
“She at all times knew she may return to her job on the bar, which made it much less demeaning to be the appendage,” stated Fiona Millar, a journalist and onetime aide to Cherie Blair. Symonds, she stated, “doesn’t appear to have that life outdoors politics, which the individuals who’ve been profitable at it did have.”
The daughter of Matthew Symonds, a co-founder of The Unbiased newspaper, and a lawyer for the paper, Josephine McAfee, Carrie Symonds was raised by her mom. (Each mother and father had been married to different individuals on the time.)
Her younger maturity was deeply affected by an incident in 2007 when she was focused by a taxi driver who served her spiked drinks whereas driving her dwelling. Carrie Symonds testified in opposition to the person, John Worboys, who was jailed as a serial sexual predator.
Properly related and social, Symonds grew to become a public relations aide for the Conservative Celebration, ultimately rising to chief communications officer, the place she encountered Johnson. The couple had hoped to get married final summer time, after his divorce from Marina Wheeler grew to become last, however delayed the date due to coronavirus restrictions.
Life in Downing Road is much less glamorous than it would seem, Millar stated. Whereas the job comes with a spacious Westminster condominium, a baronial weekend dwelling, Chequers, and an annual adorning finances of 30,000 kilos ($41,600), the federal government doesn’t pay for meals or family employees. Exterior of public events, the couple are anticipated to cook dinner for themselves or get takeout.
Political commentators say they see Symonds’ fingerprints in Johnson’s embrace of inexperienced insurance policies. They are saying she has performed to his pragmatic instincts by nudging him towards a extra conciliatory politics.
A number of the uneasiness about Symonds is as a lot about Johnson as her. With few fastened positions and a scarcity of ideological moorings, he leaves the impression that his selections could be swayed by these with best entry to him. Throughout a yr of lockdowns, that circle typically shrank to Symonds.
“The rationale we’re fussing over that is that we expect we have now an insufficient determine as prime minister,” stated Jill Rutter, a former civil servant who’s a senior analysis fellow on the U.Okay. in a Altering Europe, a London suppose tank. “If we thought we had a very good prime minister, would we actually care who his partner is, past hoping he has a cheerful private life?”