LONDON — 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 house in Downing Avenue. And it has put his 33-year-old fiancée, Carrie Symonds, below a very scorching highlight.
Mr. Johnson has been accused in information reviews of secretly utilizing funds from a Conservative Social gathering donor to complement his public finances for redecorating the house — a cost that, though Mr. Johnson says he has repaid the cash, has prompted an investigation by Britain’s Electoral Fee. However it’s Ms. 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 Social gathering, Keir Starmer, had himself photographed finding out wallpaper on the British division retailer John Lewis — a labored stunt meant to make gentle of reviews that Ms. Symonds derided the Downing Avenue décor left by Mr. Johnson’s no-nonsense predecessor, Theresa Might, as a “John Lewis nightmare.”
By no means thoughts that Ms. 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 that as soon as visited her within the house. Tatler did report that Ms. Symonds oversaw the renovation undertaking, and her involvement means she, too, could have to show over proof to the Electoral Fee.
For Ms. Symonds, a former Conservative Social gathering 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 Mr. Johnson after he contracted the coronavirus; the beginning of their son, Wilfred; and the bitter purging of Mr. Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, wherein she is reported to have performed a behind-the-scenes function.
All of it has put Ms. 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, the spouse of Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose murmurings to their males have been the topic of fevered suspicion.
The truth that her relationship with Mr. Johnson coincided with the breakup of his 25-year marriage, and that she turned the primary single accomplice to maneuver into Downing Avenue, solely provides to Ms. Symonds’ tabloid portrayal as a libertine Woman Macbeth or an upwardly cell Marie Antoinette — select your cliché.
“The outsized fascination with Carrie Symonds’ function 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 International Coverage Group and a analysis fellow on the London Faculty of Economics.
Her defenders say that as an achieved political participant in her personal proper, Ms. Symonds has no much less proper to supply recommendation to the prime minister than every other unpaid adviser — and he could be clever to take it.
And but, others say, there are professional inquiries to ask about Ms. Symonds’ affect, which matches past the information media’s obsessive give attention to residence enhancements at Downing Avenue. Her ardent protection of animal rights was reported to have contributed to the federal government’s determination to halt a cull of badgers in Derbyshire, which contradicted the recommendation of scientists and veterinarians.
Associates of Ms. Symonds have been put in in key positions in Downing Avenue and, within the telling of Mr. Cummings, protected by her even after proof of wrongdoing. On his weblog, he claimed that Mr. Johnson needed to close down a leak investigation after it turned clear that the offender was Henry Newman, a detailed adviser to Ms. Symonds.
Mr. Cummings quoted Mr. Johnson as saying to him, “If Newman is confirmed because the leaker, then I must hearth him, and it will trigger me very severe issues with Carrie, as they’re finest pals.”
Downing Avenue has denied that Mr. Johnson tried to close down the investigation, but it surely didn’t remark about Ms. Symonds’ function.
Her defenders say she has a savvy political sense and will nicely have aspired to a seat in Parliament if she hadn’t begun a relationship with Mr. Johnson. To the extent that she is giving him recommendation, some say, it’s useful: reducing unfastened Mr. Cummings and different hard-core Brexiteers softened the prime minister’s picture and improved his reputation earlier than the current ethics points pulled him again to his extra acquainted function as a political scalawag.
“She was improbable — she could be very loyal and was massively supportive,” stated John Whittingdale, a former tradition secretary for whom Ms. Symonds served as a particular adviser. He described her as “a strongly dedicated Conservative” and a “very sturdy Brexit supporter” at a time when that was a much less standard place.
“The people who find themselves attacking Carrie clearly see a route to wreck the prime minister by attacking her,” he stated.
Ms. Symonds labors below just a few handicaps, one among which is the dearth of a job description for a first-rate minister’s accomplice. The function has no constitutional standing, and in contrast to that of first girl in the US, little administrative assist. Profitable spouses have often had sturdy identities exterior Downing Avenue.
Margaret Thatcher’s husband, Denis, was a businessman, as is Mrs. Might’s husband, Philip. David Cameron’s spouse, Samantha, ran a style firm, whereas Ms. Blair, who as soon as had her personal political ambitions, labored as a high-level barrister throughout her husband’s decade in workplace. Although Ms. Blair’s affect got here below criticism early on, the scrutiny subsided as she constructed a flourishing authorized profession.
“She all the time 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 Ms. Blair. Ms. Symonds, she stated, “doesn’t appear to have that life exterior politics, which the individuals who’ve been profitable at it did have.”
The daughter of Matthew Symonds, a co-founder of The Impartial newspaper, and a lawyer for the paper, Josephine McAfee, Ms. Symonds was raised by her mom (each mother and father have 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 residence. Ms. Symonds testified in opposition to the person, John Worboys, who was jailed as a serial sexual predator.
Properly linked and social, Ms. Symonds turned a public relations aide for the Conservative Social gathering, ultimately rising to chief communications officer, the place she encountered Mr. Johnson. The couple had hoped to get married final summer season, after his divorce from Marina Wheeler turned closing, however delayed the date due to coronavirus restrictions.
Life in Downing Avenue is much less glamorous than it’d seem, Ms. Millar stated. Whereas the job comes with a spacious Westminster house, a baronial weekend residence, Chequers, and an annual adorning finances of £30,000 ($41,600), the federal government doesn’t pay for meals or family workers. Outdoors of public events, the couple are anticipated to cook dinner for themselves or get takeout.
Residing above the workplace, as Mr. Johnson struggled with the pandemic and his personal sickness, was difficult, individuals who know Ms. Symonds stated. She contracted Covid herself, whereas pregnant, after which cared for his or her child whereas Mr. Johnson, 56, was nonetheless shaking off his sickness.
“There have been occasions final week that have been very darkish certainly,” Ms. Symonds tweeted after he was launched from an intensive care unit. Regardless of that, she retained her curiosity in environmental safety.
“Since having Wilf & not having the ability to get to the outlets throughout lockdown,” she posted 4 months later, “I’ve relied on Amazon for many child necessities, however I’ve been dismayed on the quantity of plastic packaging. Please signal this petition to ask Amazon to present us plastic-free choices too.”
Political commentators say they see Ms. Symonds’ fingerprints in Mr. 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.
Few prime ministerial companions have been so deeply immersed in politics. Not solely does she know the Conservative Social gathering nicely, she additionally has sturdy contacts amongst its lawmakers, political journalists and the particular advisers who play a strong function in Downing Avenue and elsewhere within the authorities.
Steven Fielding, professor of political historical past on the College of Nottingham, stated individuals have questioned Ms. Symonds’ affect “due to her particular insights and connections and background as a political operative and due to Boris Johnson’s malleability, and the truth that nobody is certain what in his head.”
Among the uneasiness about Ms. Symonds is as a lot about Mr. Johnson as her. With few mounted positions and an absence of ideological moorings, he leaves the impression that his selections will be swayed by these with best entry to him. Throughout a yr of lockdowns, that circle generally shrank to Ms. Symonds.
“The explanation 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.Ok. in a Altering Europe, a London assume tank. “If we thought we had a extremely good prime minister, would we actually care who his partner is, past hoping he has a cheerful private life?”