Much is made of Carrie Johnson’s apparent influence over policy in Number 10, but her power tells us something about her husband too.
claudia williams, narrating:
Hello, I’m Claudia, and this is the Sensemaker.
One story, everyday, to make sense of the world.
Today, is Carrie Johnson as powerful as she seems?
I would like to nominate the fantastic maternity team at University College Hospital for delivering Wilf and looking after us both so well. As a family we have so much to be thankful to the NHS for and we will never stop being grateful.Carrie Johnson in the Telegraph
At the age of 21 Carrie Johnson began working for the former Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith. She moved quickly through the party… working for a number of senior ministers like Sajid Javid.
And within 8 years, she became the youngest ever Conservative Party communications chief. Those who know her say she’s formidable, smart, ambitious. But she plays a different role in politics now. She’s no longer a government official or party figure. She’s the Prime Minister’s wife.
Because of her history in politics, her campaigning on issues like the environment and animal welfare, and her connections with the media speculation about her level of influence in Downing Street has grown.
Literally, immediately after the election, it was already clear that this was a problem. Before even mid-January we were having meetings in Number 10 saying it’s clear that Carrie wants rid of all of us.BBC News
In the eyes of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser and now nemesis, Carrie Johnson is a malign influence. The Cummings camp reportedly dubbed her Princess Nut Nut.
And from there comes the other camp: Carrie’s supporters and those who generally think the situation has been wildly overblown. They say that speculation about her power and influence are fuelled by sexism and misogyny. They call it “Carrie Bashing”.
I think Carrie’s had a tough time I think this name that this nickname Carrie Antoinette is quite misogynistic and quite unpleasant from my own experience.Sarah Vine on Lorraine
So, what’s going on here? Is Carrie Johnson really a looming figure with undue control over the way this country is run?
Partners of prime ministers have always been influential in one way or another. Theresa May met her husband Philip at a Conservative Party event when they were students at Oxford. There were often suggestions that she would seek his advice.
I try to give Theresa as much support as I possibly can, I think that’s just really important, I mean it’s obviously very tough job.One Show
And Cherie Blair, wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, certainly had views about Gordon Brown that would occasionally surface in the media. So what makes Carrie Johnson so different?
Well, over the last year and a half there have been a number of events that have raised eyebrows.
Today the tory party was fined for failing to accurately declare how a lavish refurbishment was paid for.ITV News
There was the expensive refurbishment of the Downing Street flat where Boris and Carrie Johnson live. She reportedly wanted to correct the quote, “John Lewis nightmare,” left behind by Theresa May. So she bought gold wallpaper that went for £840 a roll.
And she is a central figure in the party-gate scandal. But her influence extends beyond the world of interior design and party planning.
Former aides have suggested that Carrie Johnson has taken a keen interest in the appointment and retention of high level staff.
Dominic Cummings leaving the front door at Number 10 known to subtly carrying a cardboard box that famous metaphor of leaving a job.BBC News
And then there’s a story that has come back to haunt Boris Johnson.
Emails just released by the foreign office show that Boris Johnson did order the evacuation of animals from Afghanistan as thousands of afghans tried to flee the Taliban.Sky News
Last August, as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, a former Royal Marine who ran an animal charity there was helped out of the country, along with his animals, by British officials whilst some of his staff, and hundreds of Afghans who were eligible for evacuation, were left behind.
At the time Boris Johnson denied having anything to do with it. But an official memo has since emerged that suggests the Prime Minister personally authorised Pen Farthing’s evacuation. Something Downing Street still denies.
Why would Boris Johnson do that?
Well, a friend of Pen Farthing, who is also friends with Carrie Johnson, says he lobbied her and that he was in no doubt that she persuaded the Prime Minister to intervene.
If this is true, then someone that has no official government position played a role in directing foreign policy at the height of the biggest geopolitical crisis of this century so far.
But, there’s a far bigger, more pressing question here, one about Boris Johnson and how he runs Downing Street.
After a senior civil servant criticised the culture in Downing Street, Boris Johnson was forced to admit that he needs to make changes to the way he runs government. So last week a number of senior advisers resigned.
Some were implicated in parties, but others went because they felt uneasy about the way the Prime Minister has been conducting himself. And both those things explain why Carrie Johnson has so much influence at the heart of government.
It’s not because she’s more forceful than those who came before her. It’s because her husband, Boris Johnson, runs a chaotic operation with very few people willing to challenge decisions he makes as Prime Minister. And that is the point. Ultimately the buck stops with Boris Johnson. He is the Prime Minister after all not her.
Today’s story was written by Nimo Omer and produced by Ella Hill.