The Handbook
The Handbook

There’s not much that unites Britain, perhaps small talk about the weather or commiserating national sporting failure, oh and almost pathological dislike of Dominic Cummings. The Prime Minister’s key aide and architect of Vote Leave, Cummings has clung onto his Downing Street office despite the best efforts of the civil service, Tory MPs, the media and indeed his own efforts to self-scupper with classics like the Barnard Castle eye test or influencing SAGE (though, to be fair, he was trying to persuade them to lockdown sooner). But now the dragon has been slayed, by none other than ‘Princess Nut Nuts’, Carrie Symonds.

This weekend Cummings hung up his trackkie bottoms for good and left Downing Street in a highly choreographed photo shoot, trudging out of the infamous black door clutching a cardboard box. So is Carrie Symonds the most powerful woman in Britain?

From Leafy East Sheen…

Carrie Symonds was born in 1988, a year after Boris married his first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, to parents Independent newspaper co-founder Matthew Symonds and media lawyer Josephine Mcaffee.

Born in 1988, a year after Boris married his first wife...

Growing up in leafy East Sheen, Symonds followed in the high-heeled steps of Kate Beckinsale, Davina McCall and Annunziata Rees-Mogg, sister of Jacob, and attended the smart Hammersmith private girls’ day school Godolphin and Latymer School.

Her prime ministerial boyfriend famously went to Oxford with three goals, to be President of the Oxford Union, to find a wife and to get a first class degree. The first two were within his grip he was elected president of the university’s debating shop, and left with his doomed relationship to Mostyn firmly in the bag, but the grades eluded him. Much to Johnson’s chagrin, he left Balliol with a 2:1.

So his girlfriend presumably, and we hope regularly, lauds it over the Boris that she succeeded where he failed, gaining herself a first class degree. We can only imagine that his immediate retort is to needle her for the fact that she only attended red-bricked Warwick and read the not-exactly-rocket-science degree of art history and theatre studies.

…To Tory Spin Doctor…

Unsurprisingly, given how much good press she manages to garner, Symonds is a PR guru, previously working for Tory HQ as Communications Director before leaving under something of a cloud just before news broke about her relationship with BoJo. The rumour put around is that she was dismissed for abusing her expenses and being generally lazy, itself a rumour rumoured (you still with me?) to originate with Boris’s own spinner-in-chief Sir Lynton Crosbie. But in any case she jumped ship and went to Oceana, an environmental NGO, and as you can tell from her Twitter-feed, she’s properly into animals now.

Before her spin doctoring role, she served as a special advisor to Chancellor (and Cummings victim), Sajid Javid, as well as former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.

…To First Girlfriend

To say that Boris Johnson is the Singer Electric of sewing when it comes to sowing his wild oats would be to put it mildly. Cherie Blair used to boast of her five-times-a-night with Tony, but it seems that his successor in Number 10 is on an altogether more Olympian plane.

When the PM finally chucked it with his much cheated-on wife Marina (though it seems unlikely she was exactly Mother Theresa), it looked like Boris was about to turn Downing Street blue in more ways than one as he would finally have carte blanche to play the field. But instead, he was curiously brought into line by a party official twenty years his junior. Carrie had him charmed.

Carrie really burst onto the national scene with an almighty row.

It was June 2019 and Boris had it all to play for, he’d just won his fellow MPs’ nomination to be one of the final two candidates racing to become party leader (and, so, Prime Minister); it was quite probably the high point of his career to-date. And he risked it all by getting into a blazing yelling-match with his partner over a wine-stained sofa that ended with the police being called..

He risked it all by getting into a blazing yelling-match with his partner over a wine-stained sofa that ended with the police being called....

Regardless of what that tells you about Boris himself, it’s safe to suggest that their relationship is sometimes relatively fiery. Maybe this spiciness has other advantages, but nevertheless it must be pointed out that the story leaked to the press from a pair of uber-Remainer Champagne socialist Corbynistas, so we’re taking the detail with an angina-inducingly large pinch of salt. All the same, it paints a picture of a woman able to more than hold her own against the Prime Minister.

And the public row didn’t dent Boris’s chances of making it to the top job, he sailed into Downing Street with the confidence of his MPs in autumn 2019 and after a few Brexit dust-ups with parliament (have you used the word ‘Prorogue’ since November?) easily won a general election with a landslide victory against a vanquished Jeremy Corbyn.

Corona Baby!

32 year old Carrie Symonds seems to have perfected the skill of submarining below the national consciousness, only surfacing to sink a battleship (we’ll come onto Cummings) or, in April 2020, to give birth.

Announcing they were having a baby together (and were now engaged) in February Symonds crash dived while the brewing coronavirus problem became a full-scale national emergency. Speculation whirled, had they broken up? Was Carrie even in Downing Street? Before we had word that despite shielding she had contracted the PM’s COVID-19 infection, and then we all fixated on the PM’s gripping struggle with the virus that saw him face death up-close and, arguably, lose his political mojo in the process.

In April Carrie delivered Wilfred, at London’s UCLH. It was her first baby and his ummmmm-th. Boris, still recovering from his corona-jaunt to St Thomas’s ICU was seen cradling his latest progeny. But this is probably the one child he’s spent most time with, of late, as the small Downing Street flat shared by the couple said to ring with screams (Wilfred’s) most nights just as Boris negotiates Brexit, handles the pandemic and deals with internal crisis after crisis.

Which brings us onto Cummings

As one Tory MP told me recently ‘underestimate Carrie at your peril, don’t forget she knows half the Conservative Party’. Despite his proven 20:20 vision, Cummings might need to hop back into his Range Rover to Northumberland beauty-spots to get a re-test, because he clearly didn’t see this coming.

Rumour has it that once policy decisions were made between Boris and his advisors, key among them Dominic Cummings and Director of Communications Lee Cain, he would head up to the flat and then a series of texts would drift downstairs reversing various decisions as he and Carrie supposedly chatted through the business of the day.

And Princess Nut Nuts

According to the Mail on Sunday, their close relationship (apparently Carrie calls Boris over 20 times a day) led Cain and Cummings to refer to Carrie as Princess Nut Nuts.

To say that things haven’t been smooth with Cummings of late is to put it extremely diplomatically. Often a thorn in the government’s (and Boris’s) side, the advisor was widely expected to leave Downing Street some time in the new year. However, after a plan was hatched to promote Lee Cain it is reported that Carrie presented Boris with screenshots of texts proving that his advisors called her Princess Nut Nuts and thought she was generally, well, nuts.

Presumably in an ‘either they go or I do’ type gesture Boris decided to avoid another wine-sofa episode and sacked Cummings and Cain on the spot.

And what next?

Time will tell how Boris and Carrie will continue to reshape policy, or if Carrie Symonds really is the most powerful woman in the country. But the PM’s pivot appears to be toward matters ecological, as his famous phone call with President Elect Biden suggested, which fits the Symonds agenda nicely. While perhaps it will lead to a kinder and less Cummings-like approach to other pressing issues remains to be seen.

Either way, the first-girlfriend is the most politically attuned and clearly has more behind-the-scenes power than any PM’s partner in modern history. She effectively sacked Dominic Cummings, after all.

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