Shona Craven: Is Carrie Symonds the new Downing Street puppet master?

WHAT on earth is going on behind the door of Number 10? Cummings, goings, furious arguments and battles for supremacy – there’s a lot to keep track of. At this rate we’re going to need one of those giant wall collages with red string connecting all the key players. Or in some cases, barbed wire.

Everyone knows that Dominic Cummings is the power behind the throne, right? Any lingering doubts about that were extinguished back in May, when he had the audacity to not only hold his own press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden but also arrive half an hour late and then use the occasion to thumb his nose at the entire population of the UK.

But wait, what’s this? There’s another power behind the throne? Just how big is this throne, and how much jostling space is there behind it? Has anyone checked underneath it? What if, all this time, we thought Boris Johnson was a marionette but he’s actually a glove puppet? Plot twist!

READ MORE: Lee Cain resigns amid reports of tension in Downing Street

To confuse matters even further, the Prime Minister now has his very own official mouthpiece. From January, former journalist Allegra Stratton will be going on TV to relay Johnson’s policies, positions and pep talks, sparing us the miserable experience of having to listen to his unedited rambles.

Or at least, she’ll be relaying the policies, positions and pep talks of whoever is advising him at that point. Anyone who’s ever played Chinese whispers may perceive a danger here, so Stratton is insisting she get her information straight from the horse’s mouth. That is, the horse glove puppet whose every neigh and whinny is being scripted by a shadowy strategist.

One such shadowy strategist, director of communications Lee Cain, was apparently not happy with this appointment. How would he be able to direct communications when the PM was going to be communicating indirectly with the public via Stratton, who would speak directly into television cameras with her own mouth?

READ MORE: Dominic Cummings to quit? Civil war erupts in Downing Street

Sure, he could just ban a few journalists from attending the press conferences, hoping the rest would decline to attend out of solidarity, but the usual boring old spoilsports would no doubt start bleating about Trumpian tactics again.

Thus began a game of musical chairs, which ended with Cain apparently winning the prestigious position of chief of staff (a role Johnson replaced with two others when he became Prime Minister, which are currently filled by anarchic oddball Cummings and the comparatively boring Sir Edward Lister). Unfortunately for him, it seems the Prime Minister’s partner, Carrie Symonds, pulled the chair away just before he was due to sit down on it, with the result that his bottom ended up communicating directly with the floor.

Humiliated, he is packing his bags and saying goodbye to the Downing Street circus. Cummings reportedly threatened to scurry off too, outraged at the treatment of his old pal from the Vote Leave campaign. What is the world coming to when a chap and his Brexiteer pals can’t be left to get on with trashing a few nations in peace? Since when were busybody women allowed to get in on the act!

READ MORE: Downing Street pantomime continues as Covid-19 death toll exceeds 50,000

ITV’s This Morning was quick off the mark with some vital political analysis: “Today we’re talking about interfering partners in our phone-in. So is your other half meddling in your work? Or perhaps your partner keeps making plans without consulting you?”

Downing Street sources confirm the lines were engaged when the PM attempted to ring in. Or at least that’s what Carrie told him as she ushered him out into the garden to look at a squirrel.

Is it a bad thing for democracy that the Prime Minister’s partner is apparently wielding huge power when it comes to the hiring and firing of unelected advisors? Undoubtedly yes, it’s an outrage, especially at this time of national crisis when any notions of scrutiny and transparency have gone out the window. But in this instance it’s hard not feel a little bit torn, on the basis that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Sure, the manoeuvring by Symonds is designed to protect the PM from his own terrible judgement, but it won’t be enough to save his skin once we’ve got through the worst of the pandemic.

To be honest, at this point I would feel reassured if we learned that the fictional Downing Street tea lady from Love Actually was having an input at strategy meetings. Johnson likely would too, as at least she’d bring experience of containing leaks.

Government by leak has been the order of the day for months now, reaching an entertaining climax this week when someone leaked the top-secret plans to unmask the leaker using a Coleen Rooney-esque sting operation. Of course, the first rule of Coleen Rooney-esque sting operations is that you don’t tell anyone about them in advance, so that was the end of that.

We may soon discover by process of elimination that someone who was Lee Cain by name was leakin’ by nature. Who needs an expensive inquiry when the nominative determinism was staring us in the face? Did Cain perhaps leak the news of his own sideways promotion, to ensure the Prime Minister couldn’t backtrack on it without spectacularly embarrassing himself?

Most importantly going forward, was this a one-off intervention by the PM’s partner, or merely an opening salvo? Will she Carrie on meddling publicly, or drop under the radar?

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