In defence of Carrie Symonds

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“Had Carrie pulled the plug before Bozzie said something she didn’t approve of?” This was the casually misogynistic sentence Daily Mail journalist Henry Deedes threw into his write-up of Boris Johnson’s technical difficulties while participating in a parliamentary debate from splendid self-isolation.

Deedes has form when it comes to casual misogyny. When describing Angela Rayner’s maiden outing at the dispatch box at Prime Minister’s Questions, he was strangely fixated by her footwear:

“Angela Rayner had got her bovver boots on. Great clod-hopping things they were, the sort that Teddy Boys used to wear while out on the razzle. Not for her the genteel kitten clackers Theresa May used to fashion. One swing of the Rayner hoof in these babies could do a man some serious damage.”

He has previously described one of our most forensic and accomplished of politicians, Yvette Cooper (Labour), MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, as working herself into “a tizzy”. Women and Equalities Select Committee Chair, and MP for Romsey and Southampton North, Caroline Nokes, was described as giving Johnson “a stern finger-wagging over gender equality”.

This is par for the course with the Daily Mail, for whom no woman can ever do right – with the possible exception of the Duchess of Cambridge, who is seen but never heard. If you work, you’re a neglectful mother, but if you’re a stay-at-home mum, then you’re a burden on society. You’ll never get the balance right between being too thin and too fat, for the Mail’s liking. A woman who looks her age is anathema. Careful not to look too young for your age though, otherwise there will be dark mutterings of mutton dressed as lamb. Women who have committed the unpardonable crime of reaching the age of 45 become invisible – über-celebs and royals being a notable exception. Unless, of course, they are figures of derision, like Cherie Blair and Meghan Markle. Then they’ll never be forgotten, nor forgiven, no matter their age.

Back to Carrie, and the hysteria in the right-wing press about her having influence over her partner and the father of her child, the prime minister. That’s the same right-wing press, by the way, that never once raised an eyebrow about unelected bureaucrat and self-appointed Grand Vizier Dominic Cummings playing Rasputin to world czar-king Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, or former chicken impersonator Lee Cain having a Svengali-like hold on him. Not so Carrie.

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You can almost feel the indignation. Hasn’t anybody told that Symonds-woman that her role is to show off Johnson’s virility, humanity and softer side? That’s why the Mail was happy to publish a photo of her in her bathing suit, looking like a shapely mermaid made flesh, and of her snuggled up to Johnson when they announced their engagement, and of her cuddling new-born baby Wilf, looking matronly with her sirenic hair scraped back into a bun.

The press turning on Carrie presages a possible intention to use her as a whipping post to deflect from Johnson’s flaws and keep his popularity rating as near intact as possible. “Don’t blame Boris; it’s Carrie’s fault!” (Whatever ‘it’ is…) They did this with David and Victoria Beckham. He could do no wrong, despite cheating on his wife with a kiss-and-tell wannabe TV presenter. She could do no right, despite standing by her man, keeping the family together and building a fashion empire from scratch. OK, so her poseur attitude was annoying, but we shouldn’t diss her accomplishments for that.

Does the Daily Mail, or any of the other newspapers clutching their pearls at Carrie’s possible influence over Johnson, seriously think no other PM has ever listened to, or been swayed by, their spouse’s opinion on a matter? Of course, if we were talking about Denis Thatcher or Philip May doing the influencing, the Mail would think that perfectly right and proper. It wouldn’t even merit a column sentence, let alone an inch.

How about we compare what Cain and Cummings, known as ‘the mad mullahs of Brexit’ (but don’t worry, the Tories assure us they’re not casually Islamophobic, nothing to see here, move along…), versus what ‘Princess Nut Nuts’ Carrie – as Cain and Cummings call her – is alleged to have influenced Johnson to do?

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In the pugnacious corner, we have the policies of Cain and Cummings (in chronological order, top-five only, otherwise we’ll be here all day…):

  • Sign up to a border in the Irish Sea, sell it to the public as an ‘oven-ready deal’ that would ‘get Brexit done’, and then later pretend Johnson never understood it, and attempt to renege on it, thereby damaging Britain’s global reputation. Brilliant! (Not.)
  • Flirt with herd immunity (see Johnson’s ‘Superman’ speech at Greenwich in February this year, when he offered up the nation to take a different path for the good of the world), resulting in locking down too late, thousands of unnecessary deaths and all the unhappy ‘accidents’ that followed. From the exams fiasco, to the betrayal on food standards, to the sad spectacle of a chamber full of privileged Tory MPs voting down a motion to feed hungry children during the autumn half-term. It has been an unmitigated disaster.
  • Treat the pandemic as an opportunity to:

a) further your authoritarian agenda of transferring power away from the other branches of government, to the executive;

b) strip citizens of rights, and

c) loot the Treasury to line the pockets of your chums through lucrative, millionaire-making public contracts, without requiring delivery of usable product, or even any product, in return.

  • Go for the hardest, harshest possible Brexit, and preferably No Deal, to reward hedge fund donors who take ‘short’ positions in the market, i.e. who bet against Britain. (The hedge fund managers’ positions are signalling what they expect Brexit to do to the UK economy: in this case, trash it. The most famous of these hedge fund donors is Crispin Odey. He made £220 million betting on the fall of sterling after the Brexit referendum, when our currency experienced the biggest one-day loss in its history. “The morning has gold in its mouth,” he boasted. Reminder: when men like Odey make these excessive profits, it is usually at the expense of small investors and pension funds investing on behalf of workers, who suddenly see the value of their investments severely marked down.)

  • Fail to renew the Brexit transition period for a year – when time to prepare has been severely curtailed by lockdown, businesses haven’t had a chance to transition to anything as they don’t know what they’re transitioning to, and not even the government’s systems, processes and staff are ready. Ending transition under these circumstances would be madness at any time. To do it in the midst of a pandemic, in mid-winter, is cruel, inhuman and humiliating treatment to inflict on citizens whose interests this government is supposed to protect. Nobody voted for no-deal, and the Tory manifesto says the government will get a deal, one that unites our country, so there is no mandate for no-deal.
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Meanwhile, over in the green corner, we have Carrie Symonds:

  • Get Johnson to go on a diet and exercise more to improve his health;
  • Convince Johnson to take the climate crisis seriously;
  • Remind him that it’s not enough for the British Government to enshrine a net zero deadline in law (as Theresa May did in 2019); we actually have to take steps and modify our behaviours to achieve it;
  • Provide input on his ten-point plan (deconstructed here for West Country Bylines by Miles King), and
  • Share her opinion that one-man “divide and rule” #FakeNews sewer-spewer Lee Cain isn’t the best person for the job of Chief of Staff (compare to the grown-up N°10 has recruited instead, Dan Rosenfield, to see how we’ve dodged a bullet on that one…)

Well, when you put it like that… Give me Carrie influencing Johnson any day of the week, over the lads’ mag duo with their delusions of grandeur, track record of catastrophic failure and empathy by-passes. The climate crisis is, after all, the biggest challenge facing mankind. Bigger even than the self-inflicted wound of Brexit, which in turn is bigger even than the ravages of coronavirus.

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In October 2018, the world’s leading climate scientists warned us there were only twelve more years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C, beyond which even half a degree would significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat, and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Tick-tock. We’ve just lost another year – although the clear skies of lockdown briefly gave us a vision of a pollution-free world to inspire us.

Bear in mind, too, that it could have been so much worse. Jennifer Arcuri may be fun, quirky and risqué, but her politics are too extremist and unpalatable for your average Brit. It turns out she’s on the more deranged end of the spectrum of defeated President Donald Trump’s fans. Johnson already leans too far in the direction of Trumpism. The last thing this country needs is to have a PM whose girlfriend is pushing him even further in that direction. In response to Johnson tweeting a congratulatory message to President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer tweeted recently “Alex the Great embarrassment. This is repulsive @BorisJohnson. Yes, even for you: you know the media does NOT call elections. This tweet exposes you for what you really are, and now the world can see it. #GreatSupineProtoplasmicInvertebrateJelly. In other words, 100% #puppet.”

Jennifer Arcuri is infamous for having an affair with Johnson while he was Mayor of London, giving him IT lessons in her flat (where she just happened to have a pole she ‘danced’ on) and for receiving public funds and other perks, like accompanying Johnson on official trips, in breach of the London Assembly’s Code of Conduct. A very flash cash-for-favours scandal, of which Teflon Johnson has so far escaped the consequences – unless you count his divorce from his second wife, barrister, author and cancer survivor, Marina Wheeler.

A recent ‘woe is me’ article in The Times, entitled ‘Overburdened, underpaid and ‘misery on his face’, Boris Johnson gets the blues’, left nobody in any doubt that the prime minister’s tenure at Number 10 is highly likely to be of short duration. It had this to say of Johnson’s former wife:

“Marina was his intellectual match and, in terms of his view, everything was run by her or through her. She was instrumental in the organisation of his life from an intellectual standpoint.”

She would have been no shrinking violet when it came to advising, influencing and swaying her husband then. There would have been no sitting quietly in the corner being seen but not heard, had Marina entered Number 10 at Johnson’s side.

Cain and Cummings call Carrie ‘Princess Nut Nuts’ because they consider her to be high maintenance, a little bit nutty and to have the face of a squirrel. Très drôle – not.  She can’t possibly be all that high maintenance. Just look at the faithless oaf she chose to be her partner and the father of her child. (What do women see in him? It’s a mystery, to me, a woman.) As to being nutty, better a keen environmentalist than a climate-change-denying, rights-thieving vandal smashing up our constitution, our economy and our trading relationships, so disaster capitalists can buy up British assets at fire-sale prices and make a killing at the expense of us little people.

(What is it with these right-wing men and squirrels? During the 2019 general election, they started a conspiracy theory that Jo Swinson was a squirrel-killer…) That two of the most powerful men in Westminster should pass comment on Carrie’s physical appearance is staggering. Are we regressing to the days when the most important thing about a woman are her style and looks?

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Perhaps it was jealousy? Heaven forfend that an intelligent, attractive woman should have opinions and ambitions of her own. Carrie used to be the Tory Party spin doctor, until she was sacked over expenses irregularities. (So there is discipline in the Tory Party, just not if you’re a man, or a VoteLeave alumnus like Priti Patel.)

Communications were noticeably more professional in Carrie’s day. None of this Boys’ Own world-leading boasting, even if it was as nauseatingly partisan as today’s fare. She is a patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Association, of which Sir  Roger Gale MP is the president, and fellow MPs Sir David Amess, Henry Smith and Theresa Villiers are also patrons. During the Extinction Rebellion protests, she was photographed at an event calling on Japan to ban whaling, along with her ‘father-in-law’ Stanley Johnson. She is currently an advisor to ocean conservation charity, Oceana.

Of course, Carrie is no saint. Her recent attempt to install her friend Ross Kempsell into a plum role is proof of that. Kempsell may be streets ahead of the misfits and weirdos, like eugenicist Andrew Sabisky, recruited by Cummings, but that’s not the point. He should get the job on merit, after a rigorous selection process, not as a result of Carrie’s patronage. Again, Carrie won’t be the first spouse who has put in her two pennyworth on staffing, but it looks particularly bad when the job in question is not vacant and is currently occupied by the bloke who sacked her back in 2018…

Still, as Cain and Cummings well know, the ‘Princess Nut Nuts’ soubriquet will likely stick, in the same way that Diane Abbott’s unfortunate numerical fluff has come to define her. Henry Deedes’s casually misogynistic reference to Carrie in his article demonstrates that she now has a reputation, deserved or not, as a meddler. That too will be hard to shake. However, with allies like the prime minister’s spokesperson, Allegra Stratton, and director of Number 10’s Policy Unit, Munira Mirza, I am willing to bet that Carrie Symonds will have the last laugh.