One of the least attractive aspects of American politics is epitomised in the ‘Office of the First Lady’. The office in the East Wing of the White House has grown under consecutive presidents and, depending on the incumbent’s ambitions, can include policy and legislative initiatives. All emanate from a person solely in place because some years earlier they were lucky enough — or otherwise — to marry a person who became president. It all makes America less like a democracy, more like a court, with the inevitable overspill of ‘First Children’ and more.
By convention this country has been spared that problem. Prime-ministerial spouses can be strong figures in their own right, but all have sought to play down any hint that they are attempting to influence government. Yet in the position of First Girlfriend we are now suffering precisely America’s problem and more. There is no getting around the fact that there is a problem with Carrie Symonds, which it is probably best to have out now.
In 2019 our Prime Minister came in with a significant and clear mandate. Covid has added significantly to his workload. But for many of us he seemed the perfect — even the only — man for the hour. Yet as that hour has gone on, problems of his own creation keep appearing. Too many of them originate from the sway — even terror — his younger companion seems to exert over him.
Carrie Symonds herself is a perfectly nice, intelligent person who successfully worked her way through Conservative campaign headquarters. But she is having too great an impact on the course of government. There are issues the Prime Minister avoids because she does not favour them. And there are others — principally green issues — which he appears to adopt to satisfy her.