So much for the sisterhood, Carrie: SIMON WALTERS reveals how a string of female Tory aides are said to have been driven out or obstructed after falling foul of Carrie Symonds – or for simply being too attractive
- Carrie Symonds has seemingly continuously ‘shown commitment to sisterhood’
- But some women in the Tory Party paint a rather less attractive portrait of her
- Caim she targeted those whom she regards as a threat politically or personally
The sisterhood matters to Carrie Symonds. Boris Johnson’s fiancee was credited last December with helping her close friend Nimco Ali become a Home Office adviser, tackling violence against women and girls.
Such was Miss Symonds’s commitment to Ms Ali’s campaign against female genital mutilation, it even led to her being briefly barred from America, following the women’s visit to war-torn Somaliland in East Africa.
Ms Ali, reportedly godmother to Miss Symonds’s and Mr Johnson’s baby son Wilfred, has said: ‘Carrie, like me, is someone who wants to deliver a better world for the next generation and she is a woman who gets things done.’
Miss Symonds also won praise from women’s rights groups for her campaign to block early parole for violent criminals such as black cab rapist John Worboys. It was a subject close to her heart: as a 19-year-old student in 2007, Ms Symonds was one of Worboys’s victims.
Her success in persuading Mr Johnson to abandon his previous disdain for causes such as protecting wildlife has also given a more compassionate gloss to his image.
SIMON WALTERS: The sisterhood matters to Carrie Symonds. Boris Johnson’s fiancee was credited last December with helping her close friend Nimco Ali become a Home Office adviser, tackling violence against women and girls
Indeed, it has led to complaints from some that she meddles too much in affairs of state.
Whenever this happens, the Conservative Party’s own ‘sisterhood’ is quick to rally to Miss Symonds’s defence. Former sports minister Tracey Crouch claims any attacks on her are ‘misogynistic’.
While Tory MP Caroline Nokes, chair of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, says: ‘Jealous little men feel threatened by intelligent women.’
However, some women in the Tory Party paint a rather less attractive portrait of Downing Street’s ‘First Lady’.
They claim that rather than routinely supporting women in politics she has, on occasion, targeted those whom she regards as a threat politically or personally.
Too pretty: Ex-Tory aide Ellie Lyons (circled) with TV star friend Kimberley Garner
In tears: Carrie’s adviser Sarah Vaughan-Brown
One Conservative woman whose Downing Street career came to an abrupt end, reportedly as a result of Miss Symonds, is political adviser Ellie Lyons.
The Cambridge graduate had worked for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and, in 2019, had been a member of Mr Johnson’s successful Tory leadership campaign team.
In her private life, Miss Lyons is a close friend of Made In Chelsea star Kimberley Garner. The two have holidayed in St Tropez, where Miss Lyons posted a photograph of a bikini-clad Miss Garner on Instagram. She was a ‘policy adviser’ to Mr Johnson, who was said to be ‘greatly impressed’ by her.
Which is why Miss Lyons’s friends were shocked to hear there would no Downing Street job for her after he won the leadership. According to a well-placed source, Mr Johnson said: ‘Carrie doesn’t want Ellie in No 10 — she’s too attractive.’
The Prime Minister allegedly said that ‘Upstairs’ — his affectionate nickname for Miss Symonds — ‘has strong views on Ellie’.
‘[Boris] said Carrie was hostile to Ellie so she couldn’t work in Downing Street,’ added the source. Miss Lyons left shortly afterwards and now works in the private sector.
Sex slur: The PM with high-flying Whitehall mandarin Antonia Romeo
Dilyn clash: Former No 10 business aide Katie Lam
Around the time Miss Lyons departed No 10, a newspaper reported that an unnamed ‘Tory politician’ had ‘a crush on super-clever [and] sexy’ Lyons.
The politician, the paper went on, was ‘so enamoured with Ellie that his wife has told him to back off. Ellie is oblivious to his obsession’. The article did not name the politician.
As Miss Symonds’s £100,000-a-year official Downing Street spokeswoman, former television executive Sarah Vaughan-Brown has to defend the PM’s fiancee against criticism. But according to Downing Street insiders, Miss Vaughan-Brown has not always found this an easy task. A friend has described how she was in tears at No 10 last year as she complained Miss Symonds was a ‘nightmare’ to work for.
The friend claimed: ‘Sarah said Carrie made impossible demands on her such as having to act as [her and Mr Johnson’s dog] Dilyn’s walker and scoop up his mess. She felt demeaned.’
Earlier this year, the Mail disclosed how Miss Symonds told the Prime Minister to call off a Covid meeting to deal with a Press report claiming he and Miss Symonds wanted to get rid of the dog.
Tory HQ official Anita Boateng (left) and Press officer Harriet Smith (right)
Targeted: Deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen MacNamara
Miss Vaughan-Brown was told to draw up an official complaint but dropped it on Mr Johnson’s orders. ‘He looked at the complaint and said “we can’t send this crap,” ’ said an insider. Miss Vaughan-Brown continues to work as Miss Symonds’s spokeswoman.
And there are other women alleged to have been treated by the PM’s fiancee in a distinctly unsisterly fashion.
Political aides Harriet Smith and Anita Boateng are both said to have had their careers blocked by Miss Symonds after she was forced, in 2018, to resign from her £80,000 role as Tory head of communications after allegations that she made bogus expense claims. She was said to have secretly booked cabs paid for by the party in the names of junior press office staff to disguise the fact they were for her, and to have used them to travel home from bars and restaurants when off duty.
Friends of Miss Symonds have denied her exit from Tory HQ was linked to the expenses row.
Junior press officer Smith was caught up in the affair when officials claimed some of Miss Symonds’ bogus cab rides had been falsely booked in her name.
According to Conservative sources, Miss Smith was wrongly blamed for Miss Symonds’s temporary downfall. Any prospect of her being promoted from Party HQ to a more influential Government role ended, it is claimed.
The Mail has been told that Miss Symonds used foul language to describe Miss Smith.
‘Harriet was treated very badly,’ said a source. ‘Carrie was rarely at the office and was gadding about with her Tory friends using taxis paid for by the party while conscientious Harriet did all the work in the press office. She has earned the right to be a special adviser but it will never happen while Carrie is in Downing Street.’
A former minister linked Ms Symonds’s expenses row to reports of a backlash from Tory HQ officials over the Mail’s recent disclosure that £60,000 of party funds were secretly used to refurbish her and Mr Johnson’s No 10 flat.
‘Having rightly removed her from her job here [at Tory HQ] after she got others to do her work and abused party funds with her expense claims, people are angry that yet more party funds provided by grassroots supporters have been wrongly spent on paying for Carrie’s expensive wallpaper,’ said the ex-minister.
Miss Boateng is said to have been blocked for promotion because she worked for Brandon Lewis, the party chairman and currently the Northern Ireland Secretary, who got rid of Miss Symonds. Miss Boateng now works in the private sector.
Downing Street insiders said Miss Symonds has frequently vented her fury with Mr Lewis after she was forced to resign from Tory HQ.
The disclosures come after the Mail revealed earlier this year that Miss Symonds made extremely derogatory remarks about Britain’s two most senior female civil servants Antonia Romeo and Helen MacNamara.
Miss Symonds is said to have made a baseless sexual insult against Mrs Romeo, who was tipped to become Britain’s first female Cabinet Secretary last year. She is said to have ‘targeted’ Deputy Cabinet Secretary Miss MacNamara after a row over the cost of new décor for the Downing Street flat. We also reported how high-flying No 10 aide Katie Lam resigned after a clash with Miss Symonds when Dilyn cocked his leg over Miss Lam’s handbag in the PM’s garden.
A Tory adviser who claims to have suffered at the hands of Miss Symonds said: ‘A tiny incident was twisted against me and “attack dogs” who defend her in the media turned on me. I didn’t sleep for months.’
The adviser said Miss Symonds fuels a ‘sense of paranoia’ around the Prime Minister. ‘She has a network of informants among advisers and journalists who act as her eyes and ears and get inside info in return. She feeds it to Boris and gets her way. Some of it is fiction but it makes or breaks careers.
‘Unless you worship at the court of Queen Carrie you are persona non grata. Anyone she doesn’t like she will tell the PM they are briefing against him. Completely innocent people have been denied jobs as advisers and ministers on this basis.
‘I heard her say once: “I have worked in the Conservative Party for ten years and I remember every single person I have worked with and every single thing that happened.”’
Miss Symonds’s friends dispute the claims. ‘She commands tremendous loyalty from those who have worked for her,’ said one. ‘She is fair-minded, fiercely devoted to Boris and the party and entitled to use her considerable political experience to have a say on who works for him.’
A spokesperson for Miss Symonds said: ‘It is frustrating to see Carrie once again the target of invented smears designed to pitch women against women. Yet again, these claims are untrue and unfortunately predictable.’
A spokesman for Mr Johnson denied he had said Miss Lyons could not work in No 10 because she was ‘too attractive’.
The spokesman added: ‘Carrie Symonds is a private individual and plays no role in either government policy or appointments.’
Miss Lyons declined to comment. A source close to Miss Vaughan-Brown said it was ‘categorically untrue’ she felt ‘demeaned’ by Miss Symonds. It was Miss Vaughan-Brown’s own choice to walk Dilyn and Miss Symonds remained a ‘personal friend.’
Miss Smith said: ‘I love my role working for the party HQ and I am entirely focused on my work here.’
She added that Miss Symonds was ‘great to work with’.A friend of Miss Boateng said she did not believe Miss Symonds had blocked her career and that she ‘got on well with her’.
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