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Tortoise Media’s new offices in Berners Street, London. 13/9/20. Photo Tom Pilston.
This week in Tortoise: The second couple

This week in Tortoise: The second couple

Tortoise Media’s new offices in Berners Street, London. 13/9/20. Photo Tom Pilston.

Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds were wed over the weekend. Congratulations to them both.  

This means there are now two powerful married couples in Number 10. Who are the others? Well, they’re the subject of this week’s episode of the Tortoise Slow Newscast – The second couple – an audio investigation by Matthew d’Ancona. Munira Mirza, a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, now leads the Number 10 Policy Unit; Dougie Smith, who used to run sex parties, is now the arch-fixer in Johnson’s Conservative party machine, selecting who gets the plum Tory seats and, increasingly, the most senior public appointments. 

What emerges from Matt’s reporting is a portrait both of a marriage and of a new type of politics: Munira and Dougie have driven the Tory war on woke and made culture a winning battlefield for Johnson’s Conservatives. Do listen.

We’ve also got plenty for you to read this week. Homemade, the latest edition of the Tortoise Quarterly, edited by Keith Blackmore, will be landing through members’ letterboxes. (For those whose memberships don’t entitle them to a copy, or for those who just want more, you can also pick it up from the online Tortoise shop.) 

Anand Menon lost his family – his father, his mother, his brother, his sister – all in the course of this past year; he relates the experience of grief, from the practical arrangements to the magical thinking, in a way that is disarmingly tender and heart-breaking. Sangita Myska examines the life that seems expected of her – and choosing to continue without children. I found myself surprised as I nodded along, reading Liz Moseley on the unspoken importance of shops, like the “Big Topshop” on Oxford Street. And I’m not an objective critic, I grant you, but I think Matt d’Ancona’s essay on how the Handmaid’s Tale is the political novel of our times is as smart a piece of cultural thinking as you’ll read.  

As for this week’s ThinkIns:

  • Tomorrow at 6.30pm BST – and with apologies to Boris and Carrie – we are asking: is marriage over? Given the divorces of the Gateses and the Bezoses, and the reports of a spike in relationship counselling as everyone comes out of lockdown, is it time to rethink this form of coupling?  
  • On Thursday evening, we’ll examine the link between Covid and obesity: can we stop eating ourselves to death?
  • And on Friday lunchtime, in the latest Sensemaker Live, we begin a month of thinking about China: given what’s happening in Xinjiang, should Team GB boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing?

Listen in. Read up. Come along. We hope that, in one form or another, you’ll be joining us this week.


James Harding,
Editor & co-founder