Uncut lookahead for 2021: The under-recognised triumph of Carrie Symonds

The king is dead. Long live the queen.

Dominic Cummings defenestration from the top window of the Number 10 flat has been widely dissected. Less well written is scale of Carrie Symonds’ triumph in pushing him out.

Some of the ex post spin has been that a Cummings exit had always been planned but the reality is plainly quite different – one small example: would someone planning a swift adieu have spent so long poring over a reorganisation of Number 10, down to making changes to the layout of the office floor plan, a few weeks before leaving?

Carrie Symonds has featured in most of the stories as one of the protagonists but principally as “Princess Nut Nuts,” whispering (or shouting) in Boris’s ear, getting in the way of Dominic and the Leave team’s master plan. Agency has been with Cummings and as the drama around his departure played out, the reporting tended to focus on the gravity of his loss to Boris and what he might do next. The substantive question of who would run the political operation in Number 10 was almost a secondary concern.

But for politics in 2021, this is what matters most and the answer is now crystal clear. Carrie Symonds not only prised Dominic Cummings out of Number 10, she is the pre-eminent political counsel to the Prime Minister.

The key piece of evidence as to her primacy is in the identity of the new Chief of Staff: Dan Rosenfield.

When the appointment was announced, the general response across Westminster was “Who?”

As a former Treasury civil servant and close aide to Alistair Darling, there were some positive quotes from Treasury old boys as varied as Damian McBride and Rupert Harrison. But the reality is that this is not a Chief of Staff in the mould of most of his predecessors.

Think of Charles Powell for Margaret Thatcher, or Jonathan Powell for Tony Blair or Ed Llewellyn for David Cameron. Dan Rosenfield does not have either the long term political relationship with the Prime Minister or deep Westminster roots that mean his words on the government’s direction and Prime Minister’s preference will be accepted as sacrosanct.

He is the quintessential outside appointment and whenever anyone disagrees with his position, civil servant or politico, Rosenfield will be subject to being bypassed via side conversations and lobbying directly of the Prime Minister. What odds on Boris Johnson holding the line and backing his new Chief of Staff ? All it takes is one or two decisions to be overturned and authority evaporates.

The only vaguely comparable situation was when Gordon Brown picked Stephen Carter, former head of Ofcom, to be his senior lieutenant. Suffice to say, it was neither a happy nor long tenure.

Without the political dimension of being his master’s voice, the role of Chief of Staff becomes an extension of civil service management hierarchy. Probably useful given the stories about Number 10’s internal management, but some way short of what is expected from the Chief of Staff in steering government business.

This is all a deliberate choice. There were other options – ex-MPs, long term Conservative staffers, experienced advisors who have worked alongside Boris Johnson since he was Mayor, even serving MPs – but all were discounted. Why?

The answer goes back to the reason Dominic Cummings is no longer in Number 10. The role of senior counsel is taken.

Carrie Symonds now has an unrivalled position as the one person who authentically can speak for Boris Johnson. Political power will flow from her patronage, through her network into decision-making and policy choices. Noone seriously believes Boris Johnson is going to say no to his partner. For better or for worse, she will have an absolutely central role in defining the direction of the Conservative government in 2021. Conservative MPs and strategists might not have realised it but when Boris Johnson decided he was serious about Carrie Symonds, politically, they were also getting into the same relationship. Welcome to the first year of her government.

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4 Responses to “Uncut lookahead for 2021: The under-recognised triumph of Carrie Symonds”

  1. Alf says:

    Close the zoos!

    Starmer is useless.

  2. Anne says:

    Johnson has not got a very good record when it comes to his partners – how many children has he actually got? What, on earth, these partners attracts them is very difficult to work out. If Carrie is the solution to Johnson and The Tory Party then God help us all. Johnson is totally unsuitable for the role of PM which is evident in his handling of the Pandemic. The problem is he is really the puppet of the right of his party, as are most of The Cabinet. The consequence is that most of them are very third rate politicians.

  3. A.J. says:

    For the record, I have never liked Boris Johnson. Never ever.

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