There is a common narrative in political history, regardless of which way you lean. When a woman is successful as prime minister, her husband was ‘pulling the strings’ behind the scenes. When a man is successful as prime minister, his wife was stood idly by clapping. Rarely is she noted for helping him at the time, only decades later we might find out in a biography or interview that there were many insightful contributions that went unacknowledged.
When it comes to Boris Johnson’s tenure as prime minister, we’re seeing an escalation of that narrative: Carrie is actually being blamed for his downfall.
‘I believe that examining his loss of Marina Wheeler in 2019 after 27 years of marriage will be seen as the beginning of Boris’s personal downfall,’ writes Tom Bower in The Spectator. He goes on to say that ‘Marina’s Magic’ is what kept Boris from making career mistakes by dispensing home truths to him where others wouldn’t.
Comparing her to Carrie, he dubs the mother of Boris’s two youngest children ‘politically unsophisticated’ with ‘extravagant tastes’ and an ‘unreasonable passion for animals and the environment’. Yes seriously, even her charitable causes are up for condemnation apparently.
This portion of the opinion piece has since gone viral, notably the following paragraph: ‘The first sign of Boris’s loss of a life-saving “mothering” wife was when he caught Covid. Alone in the Downing Street flat without adequate food and critically, proper medical attention, Boris nearly died.’
At the time that Boris had Covid in March 2020, Carrie was eight months pregnant and clinically vulnerable. Pregnant women in their third trimester were being advised to be particularly stringent when following social distancing advice, and minimise social contact for up to 12 weeks.
But yes, blame the vulnerable soon-to-be mother for not cooking her husband dinner, or tending to virus symptoms she can’t realistically do anything about, for the downfall of our country’s government. Because who else could provide Boris with food and medical attention while he had Covid? It’s not as though he didn’t have access to immense wealth and staff that would make food delivery possible, or a doctor at his beck and call through the health system he’s privatising.
This line has since been removed from the article, but the takedown of Carrie doesn’t end there. Bower laments her bringing their son, Wilfred, to the funeral for Boris’s mother last year. ‘Not only did Carrie bring screaming Wilfred to the church, but worse, she gave the restless child to Boris to hold,’ he writes. ‘He could not even mourn in peace. Now, Boris can mourn his lost opportunity.’
It is an eye-widening read, with many online jumping to Carrie’s defence. Because, regardless of how you feel about her taste in men, the fact she is being blamed for her husband’s political failings is a new low for political commentary.
Boris is an Oxford-educated elected official with two decades experience writing about politics before another two decades spent as an MP. He’s held ministerial positions for over 15 years, was Mayor of London for eight of those, and five spent holding the most prestigious positions our government allows.
He has arguably spent his entire life building up to his position as prime minister, yet his 33-year-old wife - an Art History graduate whose political career amounts to 10 years in communications - is the reason he has monumentally failed at a job the public were assured he could excel in?
If a female prime minister got Covid, would he blame her clinically vulnerable husband for not risking his life to cook her dinner?
This is not to undermine Carrie’s intelligence, but to question why anyone is even attempting to excuse Boris’s failing as prime minister when the man should, by the standards of any other industry, have an extensive understanding of how this country is run effectively.
It’s sinister, because it creates a loophole that Boris can hang onto should he wish to be re-elected - sacking Carrie as he does anyone who is scapegoated for his failings. And beyond that, it perpetuates a sexist narrative that a prime minister cannot do their job while also being a parent. How would Bower’s feel about a female prime minister tending to their Covid-riddled husband as the country falls apart? If she got Covid, would he blame her clinically vulnerable husband for not risking his life to cook dinner for her?
One can only hope the public see’s through this vile attempt to justify Boris’s lack of prime ministerial success by attacking the woman in his life.