First published in The Mail on Sunday on 13 February 2022.
My book about Carrie Johnson, serialised for the first time in last week’s Mail on Sunday, has generated plenty of comment and speculation.
I feel it is important to address a few of the points that have arisen in recent days in order to offer a sense of perspective.
The first is to emphasise my purpose in writing the book.
When I embarked on the project several months ago, Carrie was clearly a noteworthy and colourful figure, and one who obviously took a very different approach to the role of Prime Minister’s spouse than any of her predecessors.
As the first Prime Ministerial consort to have had a political career of her own, and one given to making public statements on important policy issues, Carrie is a legitimate subject for a biography, as well as an interesting one.
She asked for – and was granted – a personal spokeswoman who is paid a six-figure salary from Conservative Party funds. She has given speeches about the environment and LGBT rights. It is right she should be scrutinised in her capacity as a public figure.
The book was researched with a great deal of care, but with no agenda. As the project went on, however, it became clear that a number of people who had worked with Carrie over the years had been troubled by her conduct.
I had no idea at the outset that these allegations would be made, yet they were impossible to ignore.
Last Sunday, Carrie’s spokeswoman released a statement describing Carrie as ‘a private individual who plays no role in Government’. This was to be expected.
But the implications are interesting. Does this mean that every gathering that she attended at No 10 alongside her husband during lockdown was social, rather than the ‘work events’ he has claimed? The police will have a job unravelling the truth.
In recent days, we have heard the familiar cry that criticisms of Carrie are sexist or even misogynistic. But the husband of a female PM accused of trying to exert the same influence as Carrie would surely be subject to scrutiny.
It is worth adding that many of those who were interviewed for the book are women. One of them even sent a message to my office on Monday which gets to the heart of the matter: ‘Obviously anyone not praising Carrie is misogynistic, a coward and a liar, regardless of the fact that some accounts of her character come from those (young-ish) women who worked alongside her.’
Meanwhile, after a dreadful few weeks, Johnson has tried to come out fighting.
As part of this effort, he said in the House of Commons on January 31 that the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer ‘spent most of his time [as Director of Public Prosecutions] prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile’.
However blunt his words, spoken in the heat of a debate, everyone knows what he meant.
But the most telling point Johnson made in this outburst was perhaps not the one he intended.
In Red Knight, my 2021 biography of Sir Keir, I wrote that while it may be true that Sir Keir was not responsible for the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision in 2009 not to prosecute Savile, ‘there is no doubt that this failure occurred on his watch and was therefore, ultimately, his responsibility’.
Sir Keir ran the organisation which failed to bring Savile to justice despite its being aware of evidence against him. That is why Sir Keir apologised for the failings of the CPS over Savile in January 2013.
As it happens, I think the more damning political argument against Sir Keir is not his mixed record as DPP, but the fact that he campaigned to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister, remained at the top of a Labour Party that was infected with a virulent strain of antisemitism, and did everything he could to reverse the result of the Brexit referendum.
But the central point is that, just as Sir Keir was responsible for the organisation he led, so Johnson is responsible for his. The buck stops with him.
He has been distracted from the job he was elected to do and the manifesto he pledged to deliver – certainly by Covid and its aftermath, but also by arguments about wallpaper, his Caribbean holiday, Downing Street parties and the behaviour of Dilyn the dog. If he has let his domestic arrangements interfere with his official duties, there is no one else to blame.
More important still is that Johnson must disentangle himself from the current mess in which he finds himself and then return to the questions that worry voters – the cost of living, NHS waiting lists and crime, to name just three.
As his career and his position show, Boris Johnson is a man of extraordinary energy and capability. I want him once again to put his considerable powers at the disposal of the nation.
If he can’t get the Government back on track, however, it will soon be time to look for a Prime Minister who can.
To pre-order a copy of First Lady go to biteback publishing.com.