First published in The Daily Mail on 05 February 2022.
When I wrote to Carrie Johnson last summer to let her know I was planning a book about her, she told me: ‘I do not consider myself a public figure and try to be as private as I possibly can.’
But as the first prime ministerial consort with a political career of her own, I believe she easily warrants a biography.
Indeed, as the Conservative Party‘s communications director and special adviser to two government ministers, she was an influential figure long before she moved into No 10 Downing Street in July 2019.
Of course, when I set out to learn more about her, I could have had no idea that six months later she would find herself accused by an increasing number of people of being involved in a series of scandals which threaten to derail her husband’s premiership.
I had no agenda other than to write accurately about what I found – but what I found surprised me.
Two of Carrie’s former headmistresses describe her in the book as quiet and hard-working, but not particularly memorable.
However, her evident ambition soon came to the fore, and she quickly made an impression after joining Tory HQ as a press officer at the age of 22.
It was there that she also emerged as a rather divisive figure. Some colleagues felt that she considered herself above them – there is a story that she claimed she had fractured her leg as a ruse to wangle a better hotel during a party conference – and her vivacity was felt to be at odds with the more routine duties of the press office. Perhaps her undoubted ability to charm journalists and MPs inspired envy.
Carrie hit her stride professionally in 2015, becoming special adviser to Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and later to Housing Secretary Sajid Javid, before taking charge of the party’s communications in 2017, aged just 29.
Despite her impressive rise to such a senior post, it now seems clear that her heart wasn’t really in it.
Within months she tried, unsuccessfully, to get a new job advising the Foreign Secretary – one Boris Johnson. Their relationship began soon after.
Then she lost her post at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) after being accused of fiddling her expenses and taking too much holiday. Ironically, it was only after she left day-to-day politics that she became noticeably powerful.
The accounts I have heard of the way she interfered in Johnson’s leadership campaign in 2019 are staggering, as are the effect of her strong opinions on staffing matters once the couple had reached Downing Street.
After the crushing Tory general election victory that December, the PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings was approached by a colleague for a congratulatory chat. But Cummings, convinced that Carrie had a dangerous hold over his boss, was downbeat.
‘This is a disaster,’ he said. ‘Watch Carrie go to work on [Boris] now. I give it six months before we’re out of a job.’
In fact, Cummings lasted 11 months, but throughout that time Johnson grew increasingly exasperated with Carrie’s meddling.
Today, the police are investigating Partygate, in which she seems to have been a player. This comes after Wallpapergate, in which she was instrumental.
It also follows the scandal over animals from Pen Farthing’s charity being rescued from Afghanistan when human lives were at stake. Some who lobbied for this have spoken openly of her involvement.
Carrie’s courage and determination have also been in evidence.
No one can doubt her commitment to causes close to her heart, such as animal welfare – an interest which I share.
Her campaign against the release from prison of the serial sex criminal John Worboys was admirable and brave – not least because she was effectively working against the decision of a Conservative government while employed by the party.
Carrie’s openness and honesty in being willing to talk about a miscarriage in 2021 is also rightly praised.
The complaints are levelled at her apparent desire to exercise power and patronage without the accountability that ought to go with it. Her friends have often dismissed criticism of Carrie as simply sexist, but this won’t do.
For one thing, such comment is by no means the preserve of men – female journalists including Camilla Long and Rachel Sylvester have written about her in critical or sceptical terms in recent days.
For another, her actions have adversely affected real people’s careers – not least those of other women.
And most importantly, the questions at stake are too important to be brushed aside.
Many of the sources who contributed to my biography had kept their stories about Carrie private until now. Some even said they were motivated to talk because it was in the public interest to do so.
As Caroline Slocock, once private secretary to John Major and Margaret Thatcher, pointed out on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour: If the PM believed the notorious Downing Street garden gathering of May 2020 was a work event, what was Carrie doing there – unless she is involved in his political decisions?
My intention is not to destabilise the Prime Minister. I want him to govern to the best of his abilities.
The buck stops with him – but the evidence I have gathered suggests his wife’s behaviour is preventing him from leading Britain as effectively as the voters deserve.
Friends of Johnson and his former wife, Marina Wheeler QC, say they cannot imagine so many scandals existing if she were with him now. ‘Marina was a very important influence on Boris,’ one said.
He has gone from being with a maternal figure who managed him rather like a chief executive to an arrangement where Carrie ‘who is demanding rather than supplying’.
This person goes on: ‘I think it’s the biggest explanation of the dysfunctionality inside Number 10.’
Readers of my book can judge for themselves what Carrie’s actions say about her relationship with the PM and what they mean for the way Britain has been run under his premiership.
One of his closest Cabinet allies has told sources quoted in my book that they believe Carrie is ‘the No 1 problem’ in Johnson’s administration.
Many will wonder if it would be better for the country if the minister in question had the courage to tell the PM this to his face.
As for Carrie Johnson, if she wants to help decide what the Government does and who works in it, maybe she should think about standing for election.
EXCLUSIVE: Bombshell biography of Boris Johnson’s wife by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft says ‘mesmerised and lonely’ PM is surrounded by HER friends and she ‘used his mobile to direct events’ – but Team Carrie slams claims as ’tissue of lies’
- Lord Ashcroft is set to publish explosive book about Boris and Carrie Johnson
- The Tory peer claims Mr Johnson is ‘completely mesmerised’ by 33-year-old wife
- Suggests he cuts a ‘lonely’ figure surrounded by her close friends who are now among his most influential aides
- Spokesman for Carrie has hit back at ‘cruel allegations’ which are part of a ‘calculated attempt by bitter ex-officials’
- The book, titled First Lady: Intrigue at the Court of Carrie and Boris Johnson, is being serialised in the Mail on Sunday
Boris Johnson‘s survival battle is set to be dealt another blow by the publication of a biography portraying him as little more than the puppet of his wife Carrie.
The explosive book by Lord Ashcroft presents him as a weak Prime Minister who enrages his advisers by allowing his wife to influence policies and appointments.
The Tory peer claims Mr Johnson, 57, is ‘completely mesmerised’ by his 33-year-old wife and cuts a ‘lonely’ figure surrounded by her close friends who are now among his most influential aides.
The biography of Mrs Johnson advances the theory that faultlines in her relationship with the Prime Minister have had an impact on No 10, with one source describing it as ‘a Greek tragedy’.
The Prime Minister has told friends he is furious about the book, First Lady: Intrigue at the Court of Carrie and Boris Johnson, which is being serialised in the Mail on Sunday.
A spokesman for his wife described the claims as ‘cruel allegations’ which were part of a ‘calculated attempt by bitter ex-officials to attack Mrs Johnson’.
The Prime Minister is understood to believe that Lord Ashcroft has been spun a tissue of lies by disgruntled former No 10 advisers.
He thinks it is a misogynistic attack on someone who cannot fight back, that it bears no resemblance to the truth and that Mrs Johnson is a private individual who has no influence on state policy.
The book comes as Mr Johnson fights to stay in No 10 following the resignation of five aides in 24 hours and the growing drumbeat of speculation that he could face a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
Lord Ashcroft’s book gives a vivid insider story of in-fighting over Mrs Johnson’s influence, and the rows over the appointment of Allegra Stratton to lead No 10 press conferences.
The conflict culminated in the dramatic resignation of chief aide Dominic Cummings in 2020.
According to Lord Ashcroft’s account, the frustrations at Mr Johnson’s then girlfriend’s apparent influence first emerged during his six-week campaign for the Tory leadership in 2019.
It includes claims that Mrs Johnson would use her husband’s mobile phone ‘to try to direct and control events’.
It even claims that Mr Johnson’s aides tried to sideline Carrie by booking taxis to take her to campaign meetings – but then secretly asked drivers to take her on a meandering route.
The book quotes the Prime Minister as telling aides: ‘Don’t do anything that’s going to make her torture me when I get home. You’ve just got to help me. My life at home’s miserable. You’ve got to find a way to make this bearable for me.’
In a series of strongly-worded rebuttals last night, a spokesman for Mrs Johnson claimed the book contained ‘vile fabrications’ which were ‘designed to humiliate and discredit Mrs Johnson’, while other stories amounted to ‘baseless tittle tattle’ and ‘offensive nonsense’.
On the claims that Mr Johnson was unhappy in his relationship, the spokesman added: ‘Yet more deliberately hurtful smears which are far removed from reality. The opposite is in fact the truth. Mr and Mrs Johnson have a very emotionally supportive relationship.’
Members of the Johnson ‘old guard’, including former Lynton Crosby ally David Canzini, are now being tipped for a return to key positions. Sir Lynton will advise occasionally on an informal basis.
Mr Johnson spent the day in Downing Street ‘hitting the phones’ as he embarked on what sources said was a ‘wholesale redrawing of the No 10 map’.
The Prime Minister also interviewed candidates for the vacant chief of staff and director of communications roles, and drafted in external consultants to ‘work through the night’ to restructure his political operation.
Elena Narozanski quit the No 10 policy unit in the wake of the resignation of policy chief and Johnson ally Munira Mirza, chief of staff Dan Rosenfield, private secretary Martin Reynolds and communications chief Jack Doyle.
The clearout of senior aides had been planned for next week, but was brought forward after Miss Mirza quit.
Miss Narozanski, a former Team England boxer, is a former adviser to Michael Gove and both are close to Dougie Smith, the powerful and secretive No 10 adviser who is married to Miss Mirza.
This has led to speculation in government that the exodus could be linked to manoeuvring by Mr Gove to oust Mr Johnson. However, the Levelling Up Secretary insisted yesterday that it was ‘the best thing for the country’ to keep Mr Johnson in post.
The Prime Minister started the day yesterday by delivering an address to Downing Street staff in the Cabinet Room, in which he ‘reflected on the privilege of working in No 10 in order to deliver for the British people … serving the public by keeping people safe, improving lives and spreading opportunity’.