“I lived in glass houses,
--- but confess I had no stones
I stepped out of those kitchens
--- and rattled those marrow bones
I stood in the ruins of the church
---- the one with the broken spire
O Sage, O Saint, O soothsayer
---- O blessed prophetic liar!”
From The Love Song of Wroro K. Gumby-Hara
We live in enlightened times, my friend… witness the fact that Boris Johnson has moved his girlfriend into 10 Downing Street, the official residence of Britain’s Prime Ministers.
This is perhaps an honest if unconventional move. Boris announced his engagement to 32-year-old Carrie Symonds before their baby boy was born. So, Ms Symonds went from being a former adviser on his staff and lover to “First Girlfriend”.
I call it a relatively honest, if not permanent, setup as former Prime Ministers have had unacknowledged mistresses while living in Downing Street with their wives. There was the confessed dalliance of John Major with one of his ministers and then the alleged one-night stand of Tony Blair with Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendy Deng -- and others going back further into history.
Ms Symonds, having moved into Downing Street, has proved to be a different fettle of kitsch. Recent Prime Ministers with kids have found the flat above the official rooms of 10 Downing Street constraining and have spread themselves to a connected upstairs flat of the adjoining 11 Downing Street. What the Chancellors of the Exchequer, whose right it is to live in Number 11, have thought of this I don’t know, but that’s now a matter for Rishi and Mrs Sunak. Perhaps gratitude for being appointed supplants territorial discomforts.
Carrie was very rude about the décor of the flat she inherited from previous PM Theresa May, saying she was appalled by its furniture and wallpaper, calling it a “John Lewis nightmare”. She commissioned a designer named Lulu Lytle to refurnish and refurbish the place. I am no expert on interior décor, but pictures of the redecorated flat and Ms Lulu’s handiwork are, for me. the best definition of that elusive word “kitsch” that I have ever seen.
The redecoration cost £200,000. So why, when the world is in the throes of a deadly plague, am I devoting space to this idiocy? Because it is now alleged that some Tory donors had paid for this extravagance, and that makes BoJo beholden to these benefactors on the principle that there is no such thing as a free lunch. This scandal, the significance of which is yet to be established, may cause BoJo to be found guilty of lying to Parliament about the settlement of the redecoration bill, thus breaching the ministerial code -- a matter for resignation.
Now the commentariat, even in right-wing BoJo-supporting publications such as The Spectator, are getting worried about the influence of the “First-Girlfriend” in the affairs of the country. Her bad taste in décor and the consequent threat to BoJo aside, it is a fact that she has packed the staff and advisory phalanx of the PM’s office with her friends and people she agrees with politically.
Her overseeing several of these crony appointments had led to the resignation of the previous Svengalish adviser, Dominic Cummings, who after his ejection from Downing Street is taking his revenge by leaking damaging information to the press on BoJo’s dealings. For instance, there was the leak of a phone and text correspondence between tax-dodging Singapore Sir James Dyson and BoJo in which the PM asked for the manufacture and delivery of ventilators for the Covid crisis and agreed to Dyson’s demand to waive the taxes his employees would have to pay. The meanness of billionaires, even when discussing the alleviation of a world health crisis, is unfathomable. Couldn’t Dyson have paid the tax from his profits? Can the PM really step in and, with Chancellor Sunak, waive taxes on a select band of people?
Ms Symonds is accused, apart from crony appointments of interventions in policy areas that affect the country, decisions that very many Conservatives and people in government are convinced that BoJo would not have taken had it not been for her prevalent influence. The contention is that if Ms Symonds wants to influence or dictate policy, for instance on green issues to which she is commendably dedicated, she shouldn’t do it through the conjugal bed, but through the ballot box.
She allegedly caused BoJo to interfere in a parliamentary-sanctioned cull of badgers. He banned the cull which environmentalists now say has disastrously decimated the hedgehog population.
Her trivial influence was demonstrated when she insisted that BoJo interrupt and leave an important scientific meeting on Covid to demand that he immediately get in touch with The Times to refute a story in the newspaper that Carrie’s affection for their dog Dilyn had cooled since she insisted on adopting him. Not a shaggy-dog story!
The criticisms of Ms Symonds’ unconstitutional influence has been characterised by her supporters in the press as the grumblings of “old-school, sexist Tory dinosaurs who are afraid of intelligent women”.
As an anti-Tory dinosaur and no supporter of Dominic Cummings or his hypocritical revenge and as someone who has never had -- or has had through vast experience to overcome -- a fear of intelligent women, I beg to disagree. BoJo was elected on some particular policies and democracy demands that he concentrate on those and not on the concerns of an unelected paramour....