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Could Carrie Symonds use the Irvine defence?

Could Carrie Symonds use the Irvine defence?
Carrie Symonds and Boris Johnson (photo: Getty)
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After a year of intermittent lockdowns, many Britons have spent too long looking at the walls of their flat and have started to consider an interior upgrade. So, who can blame the Prime Minister's fiancé Carrie Symonds for thinking similar? The Daily Mail reports that Symonds has recently completed an extensive makeover of the Downing Street apartment she shares with Johnson – complete with 'gold wall coverings'.

As for the motivating factor in the refurbishment, a Tatler profile of Symonds reports that she has been on a mission to remove all vestiges of Theresa May’s 'John Lewis furniture nightmare' (imagine the horror). Rather than shop in a mere department store, Symonds is said to have taken inspiration from the eco-interior designer Lulu Lytle, whose designer wallpaper appears to be so upmarket prices are not available on the website and instead only available on request.

While the descriptions of interiors 'based on traditional crafts, including blacksmiths' are nothing short of charming, there appears to be a problem: the bill. Johnson is said to have joked with MPs over the spiralling costs – with the civil service ruling a maximum of £30,000 of taxpayer money can be put towards it. In order to cover the bill, the paper reports that Downing Street is trying to set up a charity that could cover the costs of the refurbishment by allowing benefactors to contribute to the upkeep of No. 10.

The details are rather grey but a friend of Symonds has attempted to set the record straight – telling the Mail: 'The makeover is appropriate for a building of such huge importance. Carrie has exquisite taste. It is classic, stunning, stylish and chic. She should be congratulated not criticised.'

Alas Mr S is concerned this line of defence may not hold. After all, a brief foray into the history of 'wallpaper politicians choose but don't want to pay for themselves' would have alerted Symonds to the problems ahead. Back in 1998, the then-Lord Chancellor came under fire from all sides after he described spending £650,000 of public money on decorating his flat as a 'noble cause'.

Lord Irvine of Lairg claimed the investment on his official apartment in the House of Lords would be appreciated by future generations. That 'investment' included £59,000 on wallpaper. Reflecting on the price of the wallpaper, Lord Irvine told the Commons Public Administration Committee he had no reason to apologise.

At the time, senior Conservatives including then Shadow Trade President John Redwood were quick to go on the attack over the 'extravagance'.

Is history about to repeat itself? After all, at a time when the Chancellor is considering hiking taxes, it's hardly a good look for the Prime Minister to be attempting a lavish home makeover at the expense of others. Are we about to see the Red Wall vs the Gold Wall?