What has become of Carrie Johnson? No need, yet, to ask for proof of life – she has been spotted, it’s a relief to report, in a number of theme parks – but Mrs Johnson’s admirers, having learned to recognise her as a national asset, must be feeling accordingly bereft, even with the couple’s terrier stepping forward as a substitute.
True, Dilyn is photogenic, appeals across demographics, and seemed to pull less than Carrie, earlier this month, when summoned by his master to the polling station. Alas, it’s hard to picture him retweeting Johnson’s supposed achievements, including his most unspeakable videos: also key to the modern Conservative consort’s job. Something for one of the newer poodle crossbreeds?
It may help that Mrs Johnson’s amplifications and endorsements are a fraction of what she produced when, back in 2019, she broke off from environmental PR to campaign around the country for the party currently replacing rivers with conduits of untreated sewage. “Longtime Labour voters here switching to vote Conservative to get Brexit done,” the then Carrie Symonds would tweet from a doorstep, with a selfie to prove it. “All of you make me feel v. proud to be a Conservative,” she told candidates. And, for wavering civilians: “Time to end the arguing, get Brexit done and move forward.”
After the election the couple tried out various double acts, clapping à deux for carers and attempting a cheery sofa duet: “Good evening it’s Boris and Carrie here!” Carrie: “As a family we have so much to thank the NHS for and we will never stop being grateful.” Boris (incisively): “Correct!”
But recently: nothing. Not even about rescue dogs.
While Johnson might adapt, with professional training, to a replacement partnership with Dilyn, a lasting substitution could still be problematic for the Conservatives and not only because in showcasing Carrie as it has, the party plainly considers her an asset in her own, environmentally virtuous right. Isn’t it possible that their leader, without a young and wholesome partner to signal a joint claim on human status, could come to resemble some dung-caked, temporarily housetrained beast reverting to its natural state? We can only hope so.
Around this time last year, Mrs Johnson was in her considerable pomp. Newly married, with Dominic Cummings – apparently – crushed, and Partygate still to come, she was shortly to co-host the G7 summit in Cornwall, setting an “assertive” agenda, according to the Daily Mail, with a wardrobe of national importance. For the BBC, it was professional skills that made the third Mrs Johnson the ultimate political BOGOF.
Though the youngest wife there, she offered, the BBC said (possibly borrowing from party literature): “Political nous honed over the years at Conservative campaign headquarters and more recently, in the world of conservation and political PR.” With the further diplomatic bonus of a blond infant. “Baby BoJo is star of the show.”
Before this triumph, Mrs Johnson had long appeared supremely at ease, perhaps more so than any consort since Cherie Blair, with the before-, as well as behind-the-scenes opportunities available to a leading politician’s partner. Inside No 10, she agitated for badgers, outside she has spoken, accompanied by Johnson’s father (before he was exposed for wife-beating) at an anti-whaling protest, and addressed fellow environmentalists on making a difference: “Tonight I’m wearing a sustainable dress.”
Accusations from the ousted Cummings about interference in staffing, wallpaper and time-wasting tantrums appeared not to affect much, either her public appearances or her reputation. In fact, if the departing Cummings and his supporters could be depicted as misogynists, this helped cultivate a myth that, notwithstanding its nicknames, all-male gangs and “strong-like-bull” inanities, Downing Street boasted, thanks to Carrie Johnson, a significant progressive component. Unadorned by Carrie, the place looks more clearly what it is: the kind of dismal hub you’d expect in the party of porn viewing and reprieves for alleged sexual assaults.
If, for whatever reason, Mrs Johnson has genuinely tired of escorting her husband, this suits some of us fine. Although her protection is unlikely to rival that afforded by his previous QC wife, Carrie’s appearances with Johnson affirm what might otherwise seem impossible: that regardless of his repellent character, presentation and history, a capable person with free will nonetheless finds him tolerable. With babies that do not merely prove it, but offer the cheese-fancier a chance to imitate, having mislaid his previous output, a fondly harassed dad. Without a visible Carrie, Johnson is, however, pretty much what Wayne Rooney would be without Coleen and the boys in matching Christmas pyjamas. Minus, obviously, Rooney’s undoubted skill and team spirit.
Accusations from Cummings about interference in staffing, wallpaper and tantrums appeared not to affect her reputation
Though varying in attempts at illegitimate political influence, all political consorts will perform, so long as the public insists on family credentials, a version of Mrs Johnson’s sanitising service. Miriam Clegg stopped many people noticing that Nick Clegg’s boyish integrity was, for the right price, on sale. Without Samantha Cameron’s more engaging personality, her husband might not adequately have disguised Bullingdon levels of entitlement and self-interest. Sarah Brown offered, as much as she could, tokens of warmth and approachability that were sadly beyond Gordon. Even Cherie Blair, independent but convinced of her personal centrality to national life, helped obscure the reality that Tony Blair’s progressive government was yet another boys’ club.
Mrs Johnson’s absences and near-muteness on Twitter could be tactical, of course, given the glut of party investigations and fines. And it’s only recently that Lord Ashcroft accused her of distracting Johnson from his job, an unconvincing as well as unimpressive comment on the prime minister’s character, you might think. It’s like saying that matron is what used to distract Johnson from finding his missing PE kit.
Even a shortish period without a producible partner has further exposed Johnson as a chaotic fantasist in a stained suit: the longer it lasts, the deeper will be the nation’s debt to the third Mrs Johnson.