‘SEXIST old dinosaurs who are afraid of intelligent women’ – that’s the headline on a riposte by the Mail on Sunday’s Katie Hind to a demand by the Bow Group for an inquiry into the role of Carrie Symonds in the Government. However, it would seem that in her ‘passionate’ defence of Boris Johnson’s fiancée, whom she ‘knows and admires’, Ms Hind, the paper’s showbusiness editor, has somewhat missed the point.
She accuses the Bow Group, a conservative think tank, of attacking Ms Symonds on gendered grounds – that she’s ‘a pretty blonde with a penchant for a nice, colourful frock’. In fact, she is an unelected and unaccountable figure who appears to be taking a dangerously central role in the running of the country.
Unlike Members of Parliament and government officials, Ms Symonds is not elected or appointed to any official position and therefore has no greater authority than any other citizen to make decisions on behalf of the government. Furthermore, she is not accountable to the Government, to Parliament, or to the nation for any such decisions. She is not bound by a code of conduct and cannot, therefore, be disciplined, fired or even prosecuted for any mistake that she might make in the running of the country.
Boris Johnson’s Government was elected largely on the basis of its promise to deliver Brexit and free the United Kingdom of the influence of Brussels. With the departure of Dominic Cummings went the government’s reform agenda that promised a more democratic, accountable Britain. In its place we find the extraordinary green manifesto which Symonds is rumoured to be behind, which no one voted for, and which promises to cause a massive increase in living costs and lose the government the support of its voter base.
To obscure the Bow Group’s legitimate points with cries of sexism is intentionally to distort the issue. Indeed, to accuse members of an organisation which celebrates Margaret Thatcher as Britain’s greatest peacetime Prime Minister, and which was heavily involved in her Government, of being ‘afraid of intelligent women’ is simply laughable.
Ms Hind holds up as evidence of this supposed ‘misogyny’ the lack of any similar ‘attack’ against Denis Thatcher or Philip May. Yet the same point could be made of Samantha Cameron for the same reason: that there was never any widespread suggestion of their frontline involvement in government business. Historically the spouse of the Prime Minister has been granted special, but limited, privileges. For example, Mrs Cameron had a taxpayer-funded Special Adviser to assist with her diary. However, there was never any question of Mrs Cameron’s direct involvement in government hiring or in policy-making. Again, a question of constitutional legitimacy is distorted into one of gender and apparent sexism. Have we so departed from logic and reason to reach a point in Britain where the criticism of any woman, particularly those unaccountably participating in running the country, constitutes sexism? This nonsense may play at Notting Hill dinner parties but judging by the huge response to the Bow Group’s call, the public are just not buying it.
As a young woman, I find the hailing of Ms Symonds as a ‘strong woman’, a female icon whom we should aspire to emulate, deeply problematic. Her dubious role in the government reduces British democracy which, as the Bow Group’s Ben Harris-Quinney states, ‘has and must always be sacred,’ to a medieval court. Indeed, for those familiar, her role can be equated to that of Margaret of Anjou, Queen consort of Henry VI, or even better Louise de Kérouaille, French mistress of Charles II.
The exact constitutional position of a medieval queen might be open to debate; what is absolutely not is that of the Prime Minister’s girlfriend in 2021 Britain.
Celebrating Carrie Symonds as a ‘strong woman’ and an ‘expert in politics’, as Ms Hind does, highlights the ‘backstairs’ influence she wields over policy and government appointments.
She is no Nancy Astor or Margaret Thatcher (the latter is surely the real ‘strong woman’ of British politics): the comparison is untenable. We have thankfully reached a point where strong women are not confidantes of Prime Ministers, they are Prime Ministers. They do not operate in the shadows via venomous smears by their media friends, but openly and accountably before the public.