Ah, the joys of spin: the world where fact and fiction become so intertwined that it becomes impossible to tell which is which. And for London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, Carrie is the name, and spin is the game. Would you care to play? Because most of our free and fearless press already have done.
Carrie Symonds ...
Bozza’s partner Carrie Symonds is widely believed to have been behind the all too obviously staged “We’re so in love, honestly” photo which has been obediently splashed all over the front pages this morning. There is poor, put-upon Bozza, being consoled by sensitive, caring Carrie. And it is the most blatant horseshit.
When it comes to caring and honesty, Ms Symonds is more than ready to dispense with both, should she judge it to assist her cause. In support of this contention, I offer two insights into her craft, and mindset, which come from the time when she was a SpAd to now-disgraced former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.
On the afternoon of March 24 2016 - the Thursday before the Easter weekend - a group including victims of press intrusion, and their representatives, met with Whittingdale at the House of Commons. Those representatives raised the matter of David Cameron’s broken promises to those victims in the wake of Part 1 of the Leveson Inquiry.
One of those present put it plainly: “Whittingdale was negative and at times actively hostile”. Worse, as one of the victims of press abuse told me later in the afternoon, was that his two SpAds - one of whom was Ms Symonds - had spent most of the meeting in a corner of the room gossiping and giggling. There was sensitive, caring Carrie.
... and her old boss Whitto
In the event, both Whitto and Ms Symonds were about to be hit by something rather more serious. It had been an open secret within the Westminster village for some time previously that the MP for Maldon had enjoyed a year-long relationship with a known dominatrix. It was the kind of story the red-tops could only dream about.
In fact, they did not need to dream about it - they knew about it. All about it. They knew that Whitto had been seeing “Olivia King, a well known escort who specializes in domination and sado-masochistic practices”. They knew he “was accompanied by her at locations including the MTV Awards in Amsterdam in November 2013, the SportBall, attended by Kate Middleton, also in December 2013 and a New Years Eve party at the House of Commons in 2014/15”. Yet they sat there and did nothing.
They kept schtum - and many titles spiked the story - because Whittingdale was doing their bidding. He stalled on Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. He imposed a licence fee settlement on the hated BBC that forced the Corporation to make cuts. But then the story came out, first via Byline Media and this blog, as well as a full page feature in Private Eye magazine. Then BBC Newsnight ran an item on it.
Whitto needed the story to be spun. And who better to spin it that Ms Symonds? It was her hand that was behind his excuse note, something which was recalled by Craig Oliver in his book Unleashing Demons. All Carrie watchers should read her effort.
(c) Steve Bell 2016
“I’m almost home that evening when I get a call from John Whittingdale’s special advisor, Carrie Symonds. Newsnight is planning on running a story about him having had a relationship with a prostitute … Carrie has already drafted a statement, which includes the following … ‘Between August 2013 and February 2014, I had a relationship with someone who I first met through Match dot Com’”. That is purest bullshit.
Whitto’s relationship with Ms King went on, I am reliably informed, for rather longer, and did not involve his meeting her through Match dot Com. The statement also contained the usual get-out clauses: “At no time did she give me any indication of her real occupation … as soon as I discovered, I ended the relationship … This is an old story … never had any influence on the decisions I have made as Culture Secretary”.
Soon after that, the dam burst as the press desperately tried to spin the Newsnight report away. The Mail on Sunday then showed the game was up by revealing that Whitto had been dating a woman with whom he had shared photos from a meeting with cabinet colleagues at Chequers. A potential security risk. It looked very much as if they had pulled the story out of the safe. He used the Match dot Com excuse there, too.
And not long after that, Theresa May arrived in Downing Street, and Whittingdale was sent on his way. Along with his SpAd, who went work for the Tories as head of press.
All those Bozza watchers falling for the Caring, Sensitive Carrie line should remember her time as Whitto’s spinner. Not much sensitivity to the victims of press abuse, and prepared to be highly creative when she considered it necessary to defend her minister.
The dark arts of the spin doctor are alive and well with Carrie Symonds.
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