It's a tough gig defending this government. So tough in fact that the Prime Minister's official spokesperson Allegra Stratton left the role before even giving a single press conference. The past week is a case in point – with No. 10 facing miserable headlines over the ongoing feud between Johnson, his fiancée Carrie Symonds and departed No. 10 aide Dominic Cummings.
Johnson has had to deny making a 'bodies' comment on Covid deaths while several inquiries are now underway as to how the funding for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat first came about. Perhaps it's little wonder then that these days ministers don't seem overjoyed to be out on the airwaves – on Friday Victoria Atkins refused to be drawn on the issue
But there is one man who is emerging not just as the voice of government – but the great defender of both residents of the Downing Street flat. Step forward Zac Goldsmith. As others have proved none too forthcoming, Goldsmith is earning a reputation for coming out swinging for both Johnson and Symonds. The Defra minister appears to be a one man crisis comms team these days, being always quick off the mark to defend the No. 10 couple.
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) April 25, 2021
This really is classic Dan Hodges/Mail - completely fabricate a bunch of stories about someone, and then use those fabrications to pour hate and bile on them. And dunk the whole thing in 1950s sexism. pic.twitter.com/v2mYqa39Gh
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) April 25, 2021
Hi Dan,1. I gave two EGs of made up stories – (my comment related to you&Mail). They're just the most recent.2. 'Sources' can be found for any rubbish. Doesn't make a story true.3. It’s hard to prove a negative & given the obsession, it's pointless as well.Enjoy your Sunday
After three days of frenzied briefing and counterbriefing, it was understandable that last week's Sunday papers would focus on the role played by onetime CCHQ comms director Carrie Symonds in the latest Downing Street melodrama. But an article in the Mail on Sunday on just this subject prompted an extraordinary backlash from Goldsmith, the onetime Richmond Park MP now ensconced in ermine.
Goldsmith took umbrage at offending columnist Dan Hodges for claiming the ‘real 'lobbying' scandal involves the influence the unelected, unaccountable – and according to her numerous allies, irreproachable’ Symonds exerts in No. 10. Taking to Twitter, the multimillionaire wrote the article was: ‘Classic Dan Hodges/Mail - completely fabricate a bunch of stories about someone, and then use those fabrications to pour hate and bile on them. And dunk the whole thing in 1950s sexism.’
After Hodges asked for proof of such ‘fabrications’ and cited three sources, the minister hit back: 'Sources' can be found for any rubbish. Doesn't make a story true.’ It’s not the first time of course the gallant Goldsmith has ridden to the aide of his onetime parliamentary assistant. Last March after The Times reported that Dilyn the dog could be moved out of Downing Street, the Goldsmith rapid rebuttal unit whirred into life again, furiously retweeting those critical of the article and writing himself ‘It is hard to imagine a story being more wrong than this one’ and that it was ‘an appalling thing to print.’
His efforts don't stop there. When Johnson's texts with James Dyson became public, Goldsmith tweeted that 'No one pretends there was self-interest' and that it 'surely is what leaders are for.' The Daily Mail's 'bodies' splash prompted him to retweet those rubbishing it as a 'source of established fact' and it was 'using the bereaved' to boost a 'political agenda' while he himself claimed his fellow Old Etonian was being 'smeared by opponents or resentful former allies.' His brother Ben, a board director at Defra, has also chimed in with such efforts, defending the No. 10 flat refurbishment on the grounds that 'in any other job the employer would foot the bill' and bemoaning Dyson's 'tawdry treatment at the hands of the media and opposition politicians.'
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) April 29, 2021
We badly needed life-saving equipment & Dyson stepped up. The PM too- knocking down barriers as only a PM can, because lives were literally in the balance. No one pretends there was self-interest.That surely is what leaders are for.https://t.co/9pMjG5IvbM
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) April 26, 2021
At the top of politics you expect to be smeared by opponents or resentful former allies.But anyone who's seen the PM agonising through this grim pandemic knows 100%, without doubt, that he has never been casual about deaths.Suggestions to the contrary are an unforgivable lie
Is it time to bring the televised briefings back – this time with Zac Goldsmith at the helm?