This article first appeared HERE in the Daily Telegraph.
From the first minute of her relationship with Boris Johnson being made public, the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie has faced a disproportionate – and, I would argue, unfair – level of criticism. She is often portrayed by Mr Johnson’s enemies as exercising an undue influence over Government policy. Reshuffle sackings and No10 appointments have been alleged, with little evidence, to be down to her. A lot of the commentary has been disappointingly misogynistic in tone.
We have seen something similar before, of course, when Bill Clinton became president of the United States. Like Hillary Clinton, Mrs Johnson is steeped in politics. She is a former director of communications at Conservative Campaign Headquarters. She had worked as an adviser to various politicians over the years.
Nevertheless, there are differences. She has not embraced the limelight in the same way as Mrs Clinton did, and has never shown the same personal political ambitions. There is no equivalent in the British constitution to the position of First Lady, and Mrs Johnson is clearly aware that she is not an elected politician.
Therefore, the fact remains that she doesn’t draft laws, she is not responsible for them, and she cannot and should not be held accountable for them.
Read some of the responses to this weekend’s story about Mrs Johnson breaking social distancing guidelines in the most minor of ways, however, and you could be forgiven for thinking she is a co-prime minister. The way that some people have gone completely over the top in reacting to it says a lot about how some think they can use “her” to get at “him”.
A quick reality check. Yes, it is fair to be furious with the Prime Minister and his Downing Street aides. They are accused of rank hypocrisy – of flagrantly breaching the very lockdown regulations that they imposed on the rest of us.
The revelations that have emerged over the past few weeks – of boozy “gatherings” in Downing Street that have then been ridiculously rebranded as work events, of suitcases filled with wine for staff parties held on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral – have been so damaging to the Government both because of the scale of the behaviour, but also because they smack of “one rule for us, and another for them”.
We don’t need Sue Gray to tell us that Mr Johnson’s team seem to have broken the lockdown regulations repeatedly and without shame. Many people are insulted that the very politicians and aides who had demanded that the rest of us make unimaginable sacrifices on behalf of the greater good clearly thought that they were exempt from doing the same.
That is not the situation with Mrs Johnson. She may have broken social distancing guidelines in a very minor way, by hugging a friend. She was at a perfectly legal engagement celebration in the open air in September 2020, she was sticking by the rule of six, and in what was surely a moment of exuberance was photographed with her arm round the friend who was getting engaged.
How many of us can honestly say that we have never breached the social distancing rules, perhaps without thinking, over the past two years? In any case, like the rest of us, Mrs Johnson was not responsible in any way for writing those regulations.
Unlike her husband, she also didn’t need her regrets over the incident dragging out of her – she volunteered them. I suspect that if she has been advising the Prime Minister, she will have told him to front-up and apologise comprehensively.
Unfortunately, that advice has not been taken and instead Mr Johnson has either been listening to the hopeless incompetents in the No10 Communications unit, all of whom need to be cleared out, or he thought he knew better.
It was Ronald Reagan who once said: “Never speak ill of a fellow conservative”. It’s a rule that Tories today would do well to heed, including when it comes to Mrs Johnson. Divided parties lose elections. And legitimate anger at the Prime Minister’s conduct is not a good reason to drag his wife unfairly into this mess.