Boris Johnson is the first Prime Minister to live with a domestic partner rather than a spouse. Liam Glen writes on the “first girlfriend” Carrie Symonds and what this signifies for a changing political culture.
Boris Johnson is an unconventional politician, to say the least. From his provocative statements to his unkempt appearance, he has kept onlookers fascinated.
His personal life has also been fodder for tabloids. Most recently, they have drawn attention to his unprecedented living arrangements. While he is still married to his second wife (the two are legally separated), he will move into 10 Downing Street with his domestic partner, Carrie Symonds.
Up until this point, Symonds has kept a relatively low public profile. While many focus on the couple’s age difference (she is 31, while he is 55), she brings a surprising resume independent of her partner.
A Young Professional
Carrie Symonds is a scion of the political elite, born to Matthew Symonds, co-founder of the influential British newspaper The Independent.
After graduating from the University of Warwick, she started working for the Conservative Party. By 2014, she had achieved the post of director of communications, which she left in 2018. She now works as a senior advisor to the conservationist nonprofit Oceana.
It is alleged that she was removed from her post in the Conservative Party after misuse of official funds for personal expenses. However, she denies these allegations and her allies insist that she was fired because she took time off her job to campaign against the release of cab driver and convicted serial rapist John Worboys, who drugged her when she was 19.
It is also speculated that Symonds’s career was damaged by her relationship with Johnson, a rival of then-party leader Theresa May.
Sun reported them as a couple in early 2019, though rumors swirled for months beforehand. In late 2018, Johnson had filed divorce proceedings with his wife after their marriage fell apart due to his numerous affairs.
Johnson and Symonds’s relationship entered the public eye this June, neighbors heard shouting and banging so loud that they recorded and called the police. The incident created problems for Johnson’s campaign for the Conservative Party leadership, but this was soon overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the controversy.
Respectable British news outlets generally avoid reporting on politicians’ personal lives, so they debated among themselves over how to handle the issue. Meanwhile, Johnson and Symonds patched up quickly, and they kept mum on the incident until it left the public view.
Now that Johnson has won the Conservative Party leadership and, with it, the office of Prime Minister, Symonds is generally seen as a good influence. Her extensive experience in public relations may be what is necessary to clean up the image of a politician whose name often appears alongside the words “disheveled” and “controversial.”
Her experience in politics and preexisting ties to the Conservative Party have also helped heal rifts within the party. If allegations of impropriety against Symonds are true, they do not appear to have burned many bridges. She retains the respect of many party members that are still skeptical of her partner.
Her advocacy of causes like environmentalism and gender equality could also influence the government’s agenda. Though, there is little evidence of this so far. Soon after entering office Prime Minister Johnson reaffirmed his support for foxhunting, the most controversial animal rights issue in the country.
The Modern Premiership
At many points in history, a British Prime Minister cohabitating with a woman who is not his wife would be unconscionable. In modern Britain, however, the distinction between dating and marriage is about as unimportant as ever.
While some in high society might see Johnson and Symonds’s relationship as scandalous, the average Briton has little reason to care about the Prime Minister’s living arrangements.
Concern of public figures’ personal lives wains over time. Today, it has made a comeback under the Me Too movement, which seeks to bring down perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment regardless of their status.
While no one would claim that Johnson is a paragon of virtue, nothing has emerged that would implicate him in serious wrongdoing. While many countries, such as the United States, put a high expectation of moral leadership on their politicians, modern British attitudes are laxer.
According to this point of view, lawmakers are worthy of attention because the laws they make affect the entire nation. Any personal drama, while it may be fun to read about, affects only themselves and those close to them. The former should therefore be the focus of public attention.
This is especially true as the British governments faces another meltdown over how to handle Brexit. It is very possible that Symonds may have an influential role in the incoming government. In that case, her strengths, weaknesses, and relationship to the Prime Minister would be a matter of public interest.
If she does not, however, then she is simply an interesting person who happens to live in No. 10 Downing Street. In that case, the British people will have more important things to worry about.