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The power of Carrie Johnson The courtier journalists fawn over her reactionary feminism

The power behind the throne? Credit: Ian Forsyth/Getty


October 25, 2021   4 mins

The Prime Minister may resent gossip, but it is his closest political friend. He came to power on wings of gossip: of fascination with his character. If you look for the political core in Boris Johnson, it is not there. There is only hunger, a collection of instincts. Johnsonism is an ever-receding fantasy, the life’s work — the morning’s work? — of the people’s narcissist.

It is natural, then, to be interested in Carrie Johnson, his third wife. If political writing tends to obsess on his character, she is interesting because without her he is only half a novel. She illuminates him. I could tell you some gossip, but gossip is a drug. Read it and you want nothing else. She likewise resents gossip. She was formerly director of communications for the Conservative Party and in spirit, if not title, she still is.

American journalism is mostly immune to the tactic of charm plus threats. And so last week, a profile in Harper’s magazine revealed that Carrie’s Johnson’s friend, the feminist activist Nimco Ali, spent Christmas with the family. If the arrangement was part of a childcare bubble, which has been reported, it was legal, and Downing Street said no rules were broken. It is hard to believe, though, that two functioning parents need childcare on Christmas Day, unless they are both working: were they? But the courtier journalists paid court. The Johnsons were exonerated and the essential, eternal meaning of the story — one rule for us, one for you — was not dwelt on.

Even so, to criticise Carrie Johnson without criticising her husband is unfair, and it is misogyny when the phrase Carrie Antoinette is trending, or when she is called Lady Macbeth by Kay Burley of Sky. This is the usual shrapnel around Boris Johnson; his wife is not the first person to take a bullet for him. Rather, he enables her in everything. He is an emotionally isolated man with few personal friends and, now the Vote Leave contingent has gone, few political friends. She wields vast and unaccountable political power in the old-fashioned way that women do: through him.

She is a clue to the mystery of Johnsonism, which is developing to be, besides fantastical and thrown together — like his journalism? — lazily and instinctively corrupt. There is the Christmas Day example: unless you believe that both Johnsons worked on Christmas Day, which I don’t. There is the golden wallpaper incident in the spring. The flat above No.11 was redecorated after the election for their use. We heard that the Conservative Party paid for it; then that a private donor paid for some of it; then that a trust was going to pay for it; then that Johnson, rebuked by the Electoral Commission, paid for it himself. He denies any wrongdoing. But for a prime minister to accept golden wallpaper or expect party members to pay for golden wallpaper is insane unless you see the premiership as an ongoing press trip in which everything is free.

Harper’s describes an informal culture of meetings and decisions via WhatsApp, her reluctance to have an official office which would provide a record of her actions and her use of courtier journalists as a mouthpiece. An fear of accountability is another feature of Johnsonism. It is dramatic. It is not transparent.

Together they work together to create the parallel universe that is the heart (I joke) of Johnsonism. The country sees one thing, and he tells us we see something else. At Conference he said things which are untrue, or at least so partially true as to be lies. Wages are not rising faster than pre Covid. We are not the number one destination for direct foreign investment. Capitalism did not make the vaccine. Brexit did not enable us to reject the European Super League and establish free ports. Labour did not decide to oppose step four of the roadmap to keep the UK in lockdown. This is a collection of dreams. It is marketing. His whole career is marketing. And so is hers.

For instance, he is a feminist now. Nimco Ali said so. She called him a “true feminist”. But is he? Is his wife? Her feminism – the entitled kind that forbids criticism if the person criticised is female — is short on action for childcare and equal pay, though she is very keen on elephants, some of whom are female. Rather, she walks the waves of Carbis Bay in a red dress with a lovely child, demonstrating his fecundity, and rendering him ageless.

His feminism is as reactionary, but it is more cynical. He celebrates International Women’s Day but cuts the foreign aid budget and will not properly fund women’s shelters. (Women’s Aid estimate that the funding shortfall is now more than £200 million but he would tell you something else. God knows what he would tell you.) Instead, he says things like this at Conference: “That is what the people of our countries want us to focus on. Building back greener, and building back fairer, and building back more equal, and, how shall I . . . in a more gender-neutral and perhaps a more feminine way.” I think he came quite close to calling women flowers. But he is called a feminist, and so he must be a feminist. We will see similar campaigns on the environment and race, and they will be as dazzling.

Her friends are correct in one thing, as the stopped clock is right twice a day. Mrs Johnson is not the power behind the shabby throne; she cannot be Lady Macbeth when married to so calculating a man. I wonder if, for now, she is closer to a naĂŻve supporter: to Banquo.


Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist.

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Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago

There is nothing feminist about living off a powerful man and acquiring vicarious power through being his wife. There is also nothing feminist about believing that a man can become a woman because he thinks he is. I am a feminist; Carrie Johnson is not.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago

Nothing feminist in bleating about it either in Tanya’s case.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

it is misogyny when the phrase Carrie Antoinette is trending

No it isn’t, but thanks for the reminder that the left still needs to grow up.

feminism – the entitled kind that forbids criticism if the person criticised is female

Pot, kettle etc

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Tom Watson
Tom Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Honestly Jon, it’s very simple. Those sorts of misogynistic attacks draw on old tropes of women exercising power behind the scenes, unaccountable to the normal political structures, because of their closeness to the men in power.

With Carrie it’s completely different: “He enables her in everything. He is an emotionally isolated man with few personal friends and, now the Vote Leave contingent has gone, few political friends. She wields vast and unaccountable political power in the old-fashioned way that women do: through him.”

See? Night and day. How anyone could think such appalling comparisons were appropriate is beyond me.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Watson

It is because she IS exercising power without accountability! Everyone who voted Conservative knew they were getting Johnson, not Carrie. Carrie Antoinette is funny, and appropriate, so of course typically rejected by the pious and hypocritical prigs who dominate our public discourse.
It is also a shame that Tanya Gold is an out and out socialist, a failed ideology that should be discredited by now but somehow never is. As well as this she seemingly is quite happy to put everyone else’s (assumed) interests above those of the British people, in supporting an arbitrary target for aid, that they do not, however poorly it is actually directed, and however few other nations follow suit. In typical Left wing world, Britain is simultaneously a fascistic basket case and a moral exemplar bar none in the world!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

“Even so, to criticise Carrie Johnson without criticising her husband is unfair,”

BORIS IS Pus* y Whi **ed! There, got in the criticizing of the husband; to make it fair.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Yeah that was the point.

TG’s always good for a giggle.

Nick Wright
Nick Wright
2 years ago

I think the author is being unfair to Lady Macbeth, who at least displayed competence and conscience. Lest we forget, Carrie Symonds was director of communications when the Conservative Party was pathologically lying to us about Brexit. Presumably, she was also part of the movement that claimed misogyny was behind any criticism of Theresa May; something she now clearly benefits from.

Last edited 2 years ago by Nick Wright
Steve Walker
Steve Walker
2 years ago

What the heck did I just read? Something about feminists not being true feminists because other feminists are more feminist? Gosh, it’s all so tedious.

I really do wish Tanya Gold would try her hand at literally any other profession than writing.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Walker

When she steers clear of feminism she can be good, her articles about Cornwall are insightful and interesting.

Steve Walker
Steve Walker
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

I honestly don’t think I’ve read a single thing thing of hers which I didn’t struggle to understand. The non-sequiteurs, short sentences and constant asides impede the flow of her articles.

I’ve only read one of her Cornwall articles but even that wasn’t free of her trademark, middle class sanctimony; as I recall she was upset that Cornwall was being overrun by outsiders buying up local properties, a piece of hypocrisy which she, as an outsider herself, singularly failed to acknowledge.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Walker

Just checked another article and I can see what you mean. But perhaps we’re being beastly misogynists, with some patriarchy thrown in.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Sue Sims
Sue Sims
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Walker

I have a small bet with myself when clicking on an article by Ms Gold (or reading her in the Spectator): how soon will the singular first-person pronoun appear? (I lost my bet with this piece, as we didn’t have ‘I’ till part-way through the second paragraph.) She’s not a terrible writer, and occasionally amusing, but there’s a self-consciousness about her work – a sort of Gosh, aren’t I clever?! – that is off-putting.

Steve Walker
Steve Walker
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

Thankfully her Spectator contributions are almost entirely limited to a once fortnightly restaurant review which, being on the last page, I find incredibly easy to avoid ever having to read.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Walker

She’s an excellent writer like Parris, but like Parris her opinions are rubbish

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

I don’t care about Carrie’s personality, or Johnson’s for that matter. They are part of our world, they reflect us. The other lot would probably have been just as bad if not worse.
So what’s the alternative ? A good man like David Amess perhaps, but he was brutally murdered.
Being human is tragic. Face reality, get the job done as best you can. And watch your back.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
2 years ago

“This is a collection of dreams. It is marketing. His whole career is marketing. And so is hers.
For instance, he is a feminist now. Nimco Ali said so. She called him a “true feminist”. But is he? Is his wife? Her feminism – the entitled kind that forbids criticism if the person criticised is female”
The British government has been little more than marketing, a PR agency, since Blair. And feminism has been little more than the entitled kind for much longer. Feminists, therefore, are either naive or cynically part of the game. Environmentalism has been likewise co-opted into the service of the game. Johnson is merely Britain’s leading player, at present, and Carrie is his wife. Nothing more. Gold makes some good points about Johnson’s lies. But any journalist can do that. Regardless of one’s concern for women’s rights or the environment or any other issue, until this is recognised, they will live safely in their parallel universe.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

“Johnson is merely Britain’s leading player, at present, and Carrie is his wife. Nothing more.”

Nothing More????????????? Nothing More?

She is an agenda driven whack-job who is using her back door into the seat of National, and thus international, Power to exercise her personal agenda, without the consensus of the voters giving her that power. That is a lot more!

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago

I’ve read James Rebanks and now this tripe. If UnHerd is becoming a home for a dreary Remoaners, I’m off.

I’ll check tomorrow and if it is more of the same, I will cancel my sub.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Nick Wright
Nick Wright
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Stick with it, Matt. UnHerd, like all of us, occasionally has its off days.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Nick Wright

I hope you are right Nick. I have been enjoying UnHerd for over a year. I have even become intrigued by this Post-Liberal concept (which I don’t fully understand but I find interesting to read about nonetheless). It would be a shame if it descended into standard lefty b&&&&cks.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

If that happens a lot of us will be off.

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
2 years ago
Reply to  Nick Wright

That refusal to be an echo chamber is what makes it worth the subscription.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Strange. Part of what I ike about Unherd is not just that some of the pieces are really insightful, but that you do not know in advance which line they will push. Instead of just nodding ‘ah, yes, of course’, you have to be alert, and something you get something new – to disagree with if nothing else.

Hang in there, mate – would it not be boring if they just praised the Boris every day?

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I hope you are right RF. I think there could be something pretty special here at UnHerd. Clearly Brexit, Covid, decarbonisation and so on are going to bring some big changes and when they are on form, I feel that the writers here do a good job of describing what they may be.

But “Boris is a clown” 6th form newsletter articles I can get anywhere without a subscription.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Yeah, the boring Boris bad and everything else good schtick is tedious, lazy journalism usually done as circus click meat for the readers.
And the cliched and hyperbolic headlines (sometimes here, usually elsewhere) are a drag too – crisis, destroy, 10 reasons, why this, etc.

Stuart McCullough
Stuart McCullough
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

The problem is that Boris is both a lying clown and our Prime Minister and his blustering bluffing character dominates our national discourse.

It’s very hard to avoid referencing the fact.

Barbara Williams
Barbara Williams
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

UnHerd needs to try live up to its name. This was a tentative step in the right direction. With regards to feminism, most moral cause are posturing nowadays. We are on course to rapidly destroy our planet through IPAT growth, until we wake up to the reality that our earnings have created any talk of rights is about to be swallowed up by our inclusion in the Sixth Mass Extinction. Carrie clearly doesn’t appreciate that her husband’s green wash is promoting an ever decreasing life expectancy for their new born. COP15 achieved nothing, COP26 will be similar. Lots of people need to wake up before our chances will improve.

Laura Cattell
Laura Cattell
2 years ago

“UnHerd needs to try live up to its name”.
It does indeed. I signed up expecting a cross section of views. I haven’t experienced any of that. It’s mostly right wing talking points. At times it’s just like reading a comments section on the Telegraph.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Laura Cattell

I agree; the cross section of views is what I hoped for even though the commenters tend to share the same view.

Nick Wright
Nick Wright
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

I’ve found the views are largely communitarian rather than right wing. It’s a nuanced distinction, admittedly.

Last edited 2 years ago by Nick Wright
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Laura Cattell

The articles are more varied than the comments. Ok, it does not extend all the way to the Guardian line, but then, there is the Guardian for that.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

And Rasmus, we may down vote you a lot, and up vote the usual suspects – but your presence here is widely appreciated.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
2 years ago
Reply to  Laura Cattell

Just listening to the podcasts during LockDown was a delight. Many voices and different opinions you never got from MSM. No clue what you are talking about.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
2 years ago

I very much like a variety of opinions, if they bring insight and new perspective. I don’t want to be in an endless echo chamber. But do you want to hear more of the the same Doom and Gloom scenario of a Sixth Mass Extinction (huh?), promoted by most of the MSM and public Television networks world wide. UnHerd should be the place, where we should hear more of heated discussions between various Climate Scientists, Biologists and Ecologists, not the same “green washed promoters” of the coming apocalypse
 So far I haven’t heard from dissenting Climate Scientists. Thank God there are still some brave ones around, some of whom left the IPCC because of it becoming a pure (leftish) political echo chamber and had no more time for dissenting scientific voices. Just listening and reading Prof.Lindzen, Curry and Pielke Jr. is an eye opener to how the Western World became one giant Green Doom and Gloom echo chamber. It is a delight to hear the voice of Patrick Moore (his recent book is an eye opener), who disassembles the Grand Father of Nature Films, David Attenborough, and points out his lies and misinformations. Would the BBC ever invite Patrick Moore in open discussion with D.Attenborough? Not in our wildest dreams! Please UnHerd here is your opportunity. Boris is just riding the wave of mainstream political “green wash” and has not a clue how to solve the problems of our energy or how we could resolve any of our future environmental problems..

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

MAT – you are one of the BTL lights here – do not leave us…….

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Very nice of you to say so Galeti

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
2 years ago

I’m a convinced leave voter, but I don’t have a problem with the way the article is worded. Nothing in life is perfect – including Boris, who increasingly seems to be one of those people who are factually and intellectually very clever, but otherwise really rather dim.
I’m not sure that that Carrie is the one being manipulated. I think it is really quite hard to tell who is doing the controlling and influencing in the relationship – why not both? They may well be in a “synchronous orbit” – spinning around each other, with a common centre of gravity external to either of them.
I don’t care, really. But I do care that the political policy that we are seeing now is light-years away from the policy which most of us probably expected, when we awarded a useful 80 seat majority – to what is looking increasingly like a pair of space-cadets.

Last edited 2 years ago by Albireo Double
Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

I think you are right. It seems to me that the article is pointless as much as it is weak sixth former stuff.

The question that should be asked is why is this Government so far from the one we thought we were getting.

By the way, Unherd certainly should be employing left wing writers but let’s have those why say something worth reading.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago

It’s quite telling about feminism that that feminists are more likely to admire Carrie Ant than Margaret Thatcher.

And If you want equal pay, do the more difficult Stem courses instead of rubbish xyz studies, and do jobs that require involve stressful or solitary work conditions.

But your “equal pay” is working at a stress free desk job for 40 hour weeks and making as much as a man putting in 60 hours at a stressful job.

Last edited 2 years ago by Samir Iker
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Very true

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
2 years ago

But politics is marketing. Leadership may not always be. If you can define sales as selling what you have to sell and getting people to buy it or more of it, then marketing is one step back on the process. Marketing is more-or-less, finding out what people want and offering it to them. It’s the old 6Ps product, price, place, promotion, people, and presentation.
And people know already. It’s just that a lot of them actually like Boris, his sunny optimism, his ability to ignore the the ugly reality and tell them it will be ok. Better than ok. It will be great. That they are great.
Maybe he is following the marketing of Henry Ford or his boosterism. “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, then you are right.” People like that kind of message. They cheer on teams they know will lose and they keep doing it. They believe that they will win the lottery even though they know they probably won’t. They know that politicians are all liars. Starmer is. He’s not averse to a slippery phrase or outright fibs. He’s just more boring about it. Boris is what market analysts call “priced in”. He doesn’t pretend to be holier than thou. But if you are going to be conned by another lying politician, it might as well be by one that makes you smile. He is a bad politician in the same way that Tommy Cooper was a bad magician.

Henry Brookman
Henry Brookman
2 years ago

“I could tell you some gossip
” My old school playground aged 6- “I know a secret but I’m not telling you”
Spiteful hot air

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

One day Boris is going to wake up and realize that he married a blonde Jacinda Ardern.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
2 years ago

If only he had!

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago

What a spiteful article! Few people are totally bad and even fewer totally but good everyone has two sides to their character which is ignored here.

hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago

Marriage is when a man and woman become one?
The trouble here, well it starts when they try to decide which one.

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
2 years ago

This purports to be about Carrie but is actually an attempted character assassination of Boris. No facts, no evidence, just a lot of abuse. Shame that UnHerd stoops so low.

Michael Rawle
Michael Rawle
2 years ago

Poor Marie-Antoinette, married off to the future Louis XIV at the age of 14, as a pawn in Austro-French relations, and murdered by the revolutionary government in 1793 in an act of xenophobic spite.Both intellectually and in terms of influence wielded, however, Carrie Johnson is obviously a much more effective political spouse than the unfortunate French queen.
A more appropriate and contemporary model for Mrs Johnson must surely be the doyenne of ladies, who have ridden to power on their husbands’ backs, namely Hillary Rodham Clinton, first lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001, as the wife of President Bill Clinton.
There have always been political wives, dating back to the emperor Justinian -and beyond. A difficulty arises, however, when the government realises that the policy promoted by the leader’s wife does not enjoy public support, thereby endangering their hold on power. You can ditch a failed minister, who will take the blame for the failed policy!

David Giles
David Giles
2 years ago

What sort of journalist can’t even hack together a half-decent hatchet jib?

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

Not sure I’d agree with the sweeping pronouncements of narcissism and lazy corrupt journalism. Having read a few of Boris’s ‘controversial’ articles I thought they raised very pertinent points, points a classical liberal would make. Boris is a wordsmith and an intellectual, the fact it comes so easily to him doesn’t make it lazy. Most of the time I’d say his instincts are spot on which might be why this posh Etonian seems to be able to connect with ordinary people pretty well. If it is all a carefully constructed act that would hardly indicate laziness of intellect would it. All of us narcissistic to amount in that we like to be liked. Hardly the worst characteristic of a politician. It’s the outcome and policy it leads to that are of concern – but that is another discussion.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 years ago

Has nobody realised that Boris is a man and therefore cannot be a feminist, even if his daft wife says he is?

As a lifelong feminist, I find it insulting that anyone would put Boris Johnson and feminist in the same sentence. He is patriarchal and from his background as far from feminism as the earth is from the sun.

Time for journalists to put their big girl pants on and call this nonsense for what it is.

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
2 years ago

Lol. Reactionary feminism.

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
2 years ago

“she is very keen on elephants, some of whom are female.”

He, less progressive, is only keen on elephants when they’re white.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

Neither can spot elephants in the room, knocking over the lamps and bellowing, although they both scream if a non-correct, un-masked, mouse scurries across the floor.