DAN HODGES: If future is now about wokery, Boris Johnson is doomed

DAN HODGES: If the future is now all about wind farms, trans rights and wokery, Boris Johnson is doomed

The Dom Cummings era is over,’ the Minister told me. ‘But if we’re going to replace it with the Carrie Symonds era, we’re f*****. The environment. Transgender rights. If that’s what we’re going to be about, our coalition is going to fall apart. It’s not what our voters want to hear. We’re going to lose a lot of seats.’

To people watching from beyond the Plexiglass screen encasing Britain’s political class, the events of the past few days looked like a bad reality TV show. In fact, it’s looked like that to those on the inside. ‘I feel as if I’ve been watching an episode of Jeremy Kyle,’ one distraught Tory MP complained to me.

But it’s way more serious than that. The week-long orgy of infighting that resulted in the Prime Minister’s inner circle defenestrating itself may have appeared compelling but superficial – but in reality, British politics has just been turned on its head.

The Carrie Coup was clinical and ruthless. According to No 10 insiders, after months of drift, Boris’s senior aides gave him a blueprint for the reorganisation of his No 10 operation. Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds thank NHS frontline staff 

The Brexiteers who have controlled the political agenda since 2016 have been unceremoniously evicted from Downing Street. The strategy that brought Boris his stunning 80-seat majority less than 12 months ago has been ditched. In short, a spectacular coup has been mounted at the heart of Government – one led not by Cabinet Ministers or MPs, but by the Prime Minister’s own partner.

The Carrie Coup was clinical and ruthless. According to No 10 insiders, after months of drift, Boris’s senior aides gave him a blueprint for the reorganisation of his No 10 operation. At dinner over Chequers three weeks ago, it was signed off. But once the guests had departed, Ms Symonds tore it apart. Boris meekly binned the plan.

So his senior staff put forward an alternative proposal. A reshuffling of his top team that would have seen his communications director Lee Cain appointed chief of staff. The plan was approved by the current chief of staff Ed Lister, the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case and Boris’s most influential adviser Dom Cummings. A verbal offer of the post was made to Cain by Boris over lunch last Sunday.

Symonds’s allies – who to be fair, are numerous – say she is a seasoned communications professional in her own right, and someone who gives Boris much needed counsel. Pictured in 2019 

At which point, Symonds moved again. In concert with some of her media lapdogs, a briefing operation was launched against Cain’s appointment. Allies of close friend Michael Gove were elicited to help spread concerns about Cain’s suitability for the role.

Simultaneously, a separate briefing operation was mounted among Tory MPs, one which included allegations Cain was suffering from ‘stress’.

In 72 hours he was gone, Cummings was gone and the press were being told a new era was beginning, one in which Boris’s priorities would be ‘climate, girls and women’s welfare and infrastructure’.

In 72 hours he was gone, Cummings (pictured leaving 10 Downing Street on Friday) was gone and the press were being told a new era was beginning, one in which Boris’s priorities would be ‘climate, girls and women’s welfare and infrastructure’

Pictured: The Clyde Wind Farm in the Southern Uplands of Scotland near Biggar

Since Boris first began his campaign for the leadership, Symonds has been a divisive figure. Back in June 2019, I wrote how splits were emerging between Boris’s official campaign team and ‘Team Carrie, the informal collective of activists, political aides and friends who surround his 32-year-old girlfriend, and are currently running their own independent operation to guide Boris to power’. I was told I was I was overstating her influence. No one is saying that now.

Symonds’s allies – who to be fair, are numerous – say she is a seasoned communications professional in her own right, and someone who gives Boris much needed counsel. ‘She’s got great journalistic contacts and political judgment,’ one Westminster insider told me. ‘And those people that have worked closest with Carrie remain loyal.’

They also claim she has regularly been the subject of unscrupulous and vindictive briefings from those who resent her political ascendency and liberal world view.

An example of this was provided this week when her enemies began circulating a rumour she had once been sacked from a journalism job she held because she was insufficiently competent. But people working on the paper at the time confirmed to me her work was good, and she had simply left to pursue another role.

It’s true that unelected officials have had a major role in the direction of Government. Cummings is a classic example (pictured leaving his north London home on Saturday) 

But the issue of Symonds’s professionalism is irrelevant. What matters is the influence she is now exerting at the heart of the British Government, and what that will mean for Boris, his party, and the country he leads.

Since the Election, No 10 has become increasingly dysfunctional. It lost control of the Covid crisis. An aggressive and macho culture alienated Ministers, journalists and MPs. There has been no clarity over what will replace Brexit delivery as the Government’s mission statement.

But the team that has been turfed out by the Prime Minister’s fiancee is the one that triumphed in the Brexit referendum, guided Boris to the premiership and secured him a landslide Election victory. This morning there is little sense of who or what will replace them.

It can’t be Carrie. Until now, she and her allies have been having their cake and eating it. When it has suited them, they have talked up her influence, pointing to areas where she has successfully lobbied Boris or nudged along the Government’s agenda. And then when this influence has become the subject of scrutiny, they have cried foul, citing sexism or invoking the right of the Prime Minister’s partner to remain out of political bounds.

Previous political spouses have tendered general advice and support. But that’s not what has happened in this instance. Pictured: Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds in 2019 

The events of the past week mean her role at the heart of Boris’s administration needs to be assessed honestly and candidly. Previous political spouses have tendered general advice and support. But that’s not what has happened in this instance.

The duly elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom took a political decision. Whether it was correct or incorrect is beside the point. It was his decision to take. But his partner decided she was within her rights to oppose it. Then when she didn’t get her way, she launched a freelance briefing operation against it. As a result of which, in the midst of a global pandemic and Brexit negotiations, the British Government was plunged into chaos. This is how a banana republic operates, not a mature Western democracy.

It’s true that unelected officials have had a major role in the direction of Government. Cummings is a classic example. But those officials were hired on their merits – real or imagined. They were appointed to specific roles, and to fulfil clear objectives. Symonds has not. She has no role, objective or remit. Her presence in No 10 is solely a product of the fact she happened to be involved in a romantic relationship with the current Prime Minister when his predecessor resigned.

But the crucial issue is this. Ever since the Election, Boris has appeared a bystander to his own premiership. As I’ve written repeatedly, speak to a Cabinet Minister, MP or senior adviser and you will be told what Rishi wants, what Michael wants, what Dom wants. What Carrie wants. What Boris wants never features.

This morning there is a vacuum at the heart of Government. And it cannot be filled by the Prime Minister’s fiancee (pictured with Boris Johnson in March) 

Is it ever going to feature? Wind farms. Trans rights. Animal welfare. Does anybody seriously thinks these are the issues that drive Johnson?

More importantly, does anyone seriously think these are the issues that drive the millions of people who tore down Labour’s ‘Red Wall’ to cross over to the Conservative Party for the first time in their lives? ‘Carrie’s hug- a-fish agenda won’t cut it,’ said a worried Minister.

This morning there is a vacuum at the heart of Government. And it cannot be filled by the Prime Minister’s fiancee. It can only be filled by the Prime Minister himself. As one Cabinet Minister explained: ‘The problem is, Dom and Lee could be sacked, but Carrie can’t. So if we get to the point people think she has to go, the only thing we can do is get rid of Boris himself.’

The Cummings era is over. Boris is damaged. Many believe he won’t survive the era of Carrie Symonds.

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