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Otherwise known as the First Girlfriend, Carrie Symonds is also dubbed Carrie Antoinette, in reference to Marie Antoinette’s fondness for extravagant make-overs at Versailles. In fact, the overseeing by a prime minister’s partner of a pricey revamp to the grace-and-favour Downing Street flat isn’t so remarkable. It was Johnson’s possibly dubious way of paying for the costs beyond his £30,000 annual refurbishment allowance that’s generated acres of newsprint.
Symonds’s central role in the defenestration of Johnson’s previous chief advisor – by all accounts to ensure that her fiancé heard only the views of her Downing Street allies – was a much bigger story. This was more machiavellian than Brits are used to from their prime ministers’ partners and was as startling as if Margie Abbott had sided with an insurrectionist faction of her husband’s staffers to launch a coup against Peta Credlin when she ran the prime minister’s office.
By getting rid of Dominic Cummings, Symonds has succeeded in shifting the Johnson government Green-leftwards. Cummings’s strong point isn’t personal charm, but he brilliantly masterminded Brexit and Johnson’s 2019 big election win – and he was waging a much overdue campaign to tame the woke Whitehall bureaucracy. His departure at the end of last year was followed by Johnson suddenly making it clear that he didn’t want any more ‘culture wars’ – not that he’s ever been much of a conservative cultural warrior while prime minister – and instead wanted a less confrontational relationship with the BBC and the civil service, while promoting ‘his’ green agenda. There’s no doubt this has much to do with pressure from the eco-warrior and animal rights activist First Girlfriend. As Spectator associate editor Douglas Murray eye-openingly highlighted in an article last week, Johnson appears to adopt Green policies in order to please her. For example last year he capitulated to her pressure, against official advice, to stop a badger cull. According to the Daily Mail, she’s also pressed for the removal of Environment Secretary George Eustice – whom she apparently sees as being too close to farmers and insufficiently assertive on animal welfare issues. And she seems to be having a political impact not just on eco-issues. Cummings claims Johnson last year tried to stop a leak inquiry because the person Cummings identified as the leaker was a close friend of Symonds.
The UK now has no more influential advisor on environmental issues. Those who raise concerns that she’s an unelected, unappointed and unaccountable figure wielding huge power at the heart of government are inevitably accused of being sexist old dinosaurs, afraid of intelligent women.
Another senior advisor to the government deserves at least as much scrutiny as that of Carrie Symonds but has received much less attention. This is Professor Susan Michie, a behavioural psychologist at University College London and prominent member of the Scientific Group for Emergencies (SAGE), the key source of advice to Number 10 during the Covid crisis.
Two major newspapers have noticed that she’s also a member of the Communist party of Britain. She joined its similarly-named predecessor in 1978 and even before, at Oxford, she is described by Sunday Times journalist Sarah Baxter, who knew her there, as having been a ‘no-holds-barred Soviet sympathiser’. The British Communist Party, it’s worth remembering, was a loyal supporter of the Soviet Union. It remains committed to the destruction of ‘capitalism’, unilateral nuclear disarmament, abolition of religious schools and close relations with ‘existing socialist states’ including China. It also still features the hammer and sickle, the hated symbol of communist tyranny whose display in much of Moscow’s former empire can get you arrested. Michie plays a senior role in this outfit: she spoke for the party ahead of the 2019 election, announcing it would not stand candidates against Labour and that communist party members should work for Corbyn’s election.
What sort of Covid strategies has this fan of Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism advocated over the past year? She’s been one of the lockdown hardliners clinging to a ‘zero Covid’ strategy, constantly finding new reasons for people to be locked up. She’s also argued for indefinite rules requiring masks, ‘social distancing’ and overseas travel bans. She’s understood to be one of the SAGE members who persuaded the government to use fear to terrify people into complying with lockdown rules.
Would a hardline communist care that there are 5,000 fewer shops in the UK than in March 2020? Or that hardline rules on religious services humiliated the Royal Family by limiting the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral to 30 mourners while requiring the vaccinated Queen to wear a mask – while 1,000 were allowed to attend the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield? Of course not.
Astonishingly, a British government that calls itself Conservative has allowed an extremist with likely political conflicts of interest into the heart of its deliberations over the most important and sensitive issues facing the country. Whether the government and its security services think this is fine isn’t clear. No journalists or MPs have bothered to ask Boris Johnson or his ministers about the issue.
How would Australians react if it emerged that one of the senior advisors to the Morrison government recommending the lockdown policies which have upended everyone’s lives over the past year was a member of the Australian Communist party? The story would almost certainly get front page coverage at least in the Australian and a further run from Sky News commentators. Ministers including the prime minister would soon be put on the spot to explain how this could be possible.
But somehow Britain is different. We’re right to worry about New Zealand – aka New Xiland – being a weak link in Five-Eyes security arrangements. Perhaps we should also worry about the Poms.
Mark Higgie is The Spectator Australia’s Europe correspondent and is on Twitter at @markhiggie1