We mustn’t grumble about the cost of Carrie Symonds’s exquisite tastes – no one likes to look cheap, after all

There are stories that the prime minister is going to set up a charitable foundation to pay for his fiancee’s alleged six-figure refurb of the Downing Street flat – but you’ll have to wait five months to find out if they’re true

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
@tompeck
Wednesday 03 March 2021 07:31
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<p>Extreme makeover: the PM is reported to have complained that costs are ‘totally out of control’</p>

Extreme makeover: the PM is reported to have complained that costs are ‘totally out of control’

And so time continues to pass, each unforgiving minute following the one before. We watch them come, then go, water under the bridge. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time, at which point it will conceivably be possible that Downing Street’s no-longer-even-remotely-brand-new press secretary, Allegra Stratton, might actually hold her first ever televised briefing.

But not before. Certainly not today, anyway. No, another Microsoft Teams day for Allegra today, and who can blame her? Who knows what date she’s got in mind for the big TV reveal. Perhaps she’s counting on this whole green relaunch thing not necessarily going that well. The collapse of civilisation as we know it might spare her the humiliation – the humiliation only she can possibly know why she signed up for.

Perhaps, having seen the morning front pages, she decided today would be yet another one best kept on the down low. It would, after all, involve her having to answer questions about whether or not the prime minister really is going to set up a charitable foundation to pay for his fiancee’s alleged six-figure refurb of the Downing Street flat.

The truth of the allegations on the front of the Daily Mail, that Symonds’s year-long refurb has racked up a bill topping a hundred grand and that the prime minister really isn’t sure how he’s going to pay for it, have not been entirely corroborated. When Stratton was asked about it, her advice was to tell reporters to wait for the Cabinet Office annual report.

Stratton was a journalist herself once. One doesn’t have to scratch one’s head for too long to wonder what she might have made of being told, by a government spokesperson, that the answer to a perfectly legitimate question involving the use of public funds would, unfortunately, not be available for another five months.

What we don’t know, just yet, is the extent of public funds involved. The available public funds only stretch to £30,000, and Downing Street has not denied the “hundred grand” figure apparently mentioned to friends by an exasperated prime minister, whose friends seem very keen to constantly tell the newspapers about his money worries.

A “friend” of Carrie Symonds would only say that her friend has “exquisite taste” and that the public should be “thanking her” for all that she’s done for the nation by decorating the flat in which she lives. Stratton would, alas, only say that “I’m not going to get into commenting on speculation around this”.

Which is to say, I’m not, as the Downing Street press secretary, going to get into answering questions put to me by journalists about matters of public interest. She is, after all, only paid at roughly the going rate of one Downing Street flat refurb per annum, so perhaps some kind of charitable foundation could be established to answer the questions instead.

It’s all a bit of a tricky one for the prime minister to handle. Symonds, having deployed a “friend” to tell only of her “exquisite taste” would, one imagines, be more aggrieved if it were to be denied, rather than confirmed, that she had spent a hundred grand on items such as Lulu Lytle upholstery fabric at £100 per metre. No one likes to look cheap, after all.

The interior design of the No 11 flat tells its own tale about the recent life of the nation and the people who have led it. The Blairs redid it at great expense. Gordon Brown spent not a penny on it. The Camerons spent a hundred grand or so on it, £60,000 of it being their own money. Theresa May spent nothing. And now it, apparently, requires another six-figure reboot.

Of course, from the outside looking in, it is at least possible to wonder whether, right now, the prime minister might have more pressing uses for his time than coming up with various schemes of financial contortionism to fund his fiancee’s decorating habit. But we’re used to that.

In the meantime, well, if you’re one of the many people who were disappointed not to be allowed to chip in the required funds to make Big Ben bong for Brexit, well your chance may soon come again. So come on, as Nick the Greek once said, let me feel the fibre of your fabric, and after that maybe your artisanal wallpaper, too. All for a good cause.

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