Demonisation of Carrie Johnson has whiff of courtesan culture

She is damned for her husband’s mistakes – even if she has had no part in them

It is 2018 and John Worboys, the notorious London cabbie and serial rapist is, after 10 years in prison, about to be released. His many victims voice their terror, but the parole board has decided.

Out of the blue, a young woman, with a high-profile job, waives her anonymity, reveals that she too, aged 19, had been a victim, had accepted a drink from him, had lost consciousness in the back of his cab and had no recollection of what had happened thereafter. To start the campaign that ultimately kept Worboys in prison, she makes herself very vulnerable.

A year later, the same young woman was refused a visa to the United States. Apparently she had spent five days in Somaliland with Nimco Ali, a campaigner against female genital mutilation and together they had met President Muse Bihi Abdi to discuss gender and environmental issues. US support for Somalia’s claim to Somaliland would certainly not have helped her visa application.

The most shocking thing about Carrie Johnson's discomfiture has been the singular lack of feminist notions, let alone feminist support. Why?

Waiving anonymity as a victim in order to keep society safe from a rapist. Refused a visa to the United States because she campaigned against female genital mutilation in Somaliland. This woman has to be a feminist icon. Right?


That woman – Carrie Johnson, Boris Johnson’s spouse – is arguably the most vilified woman in Britain today. Dragged into every mistake he makes, she is blamed for his woes.

Last week’s critiques from prominent women columnists ran the gamut of creepy to confrontational. Under the guise of agony-auntish advice, one warned her to watch her back. Because Boris loves her and can’t say “No” to her and her addiction to parties, dancing to Abba, interiors and travel. You can see where that’s going.

Another declared that the parties, the wallpaper, the animals (airlifted out of Kabul) all had one person in common: Carrie. And any feminist notion that Carrie Johnson is not responsible for her husband’s mistakes no longer held water.

Any feminist notion? The most shocking thing about Carrie Johnson’s discomfiture has been the singular lack of feminist notions, let alone feminist support. Why?

Woman’s inhumanity to woman? Warring factions in Government desperate for a scapegoat? Media with an atavistic longing for a head on a plate? Her isolation is equalled only by their callousness.

No feminist cried “Misogyny” at Dominic Cummings’ obscene remark that Boris Johnson “got a wrong ‘un’ pregnant,” even as she gave birth to their second child. No outcry at the smear that because she champions animal welfare she must be responsible for prioritising animals over humans in the Kabul evacuation.

The hounding of the posh blonde who likes badgers has become a bloodsport.

For a certain British faction, she occupies the same psychic space as Meghan Markle: her very existence enrages. Never left wing, no longer woke, she is deemed underserving of feminist support.

Yes, she’s posh and seems privileged – though she has always worked. And she has made mistakes. Like the £800 a roll wallpaper: the exoneration of Boris on breaching the ministerial code on donations in no way exonerates the tone deafness of that.

When she first burst on the scene, her commitment to women’s rights was much remarked on. When she moved into Downing Street, the Guardian reported her concerns about a macho culture there which side-lined female special advisers. Munira Mirza, the Downing Street policy chief who resigned last Thursday over Johnson’s smear on Sir Keir Starmer, was cited as supporting her.

Always precocious, Carrie drove green and youth issues in her various advisory roles. As communications chief for the Conservatives, she played a big part in the campaign which led to an overall majority in 2015. Right now, she can’t win.

Denied all the agency of her professional life, she is damned for her husband's mistakes – even if she has had no part in them

Today everything is Carrie’s fault. Today, reports say it was she who side-lined female special advisers; she who wanted the parties. Everyone has forgotten Amber Rudd’s great aphorism: “He [Boris] is the life and soul of the party, but I wouldn’t take a lift home from him.” Cherchez la femme is the new party game and truth can never get in the way of this time-honoured pursuit.

One former minister said: “Boris blames the advisers to Carrie and Carrie to the advisers.” Dominic Cummings said: “Boris lies to and about Carrie.”

The demonisation of Carrie Johnson carries the whiff of courtesan culture. The reality is she is a political spouse and far from having scheming influence, she is doubly damned. Denied all the agency of her professional life, she is damned for her husband’s mistakes – even if she has had no part in them.

It might not seem like the most pressing feminist issue, but the persistent blame and criticism levelled at the female spouses of male leaders in a way that is never levelled at the male spouses of female leaders, demonstrates that feminism still has a long way to go. The irony is the purgatory of the political spouse is a post-modern twist on where feminism began: Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, which started it all, was about liberating the home-maker. That Carrie’s home is 10 Downing Street is beside the point.

One of the great victories of those who have fought for rape victims is the acceptance that there is no such thing as the perfect victim. As Carrie Symonds she fought that fight. As Carrie Johnson she is another kind of victim. But the same rule applies: there is no perfect victim. She deserves a defence.