The political power couples who rule Westminster


From Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds to Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls, these are the political power couples who hold serious sway in Westminster.

The list, compiled by glossy political magazine Mace, features both established marriages and fledgling romances, like the relationship between George Osborne and Thea Rogers, his former adviser. 

Some couples, like Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell, chairman of the SNP, are both firmly rooted in politics, while others like Michael Gove and his wife Sarah Vine have a foot in the media or the private sector. 

‘The Westminster bubble is small and quite hermetic,’ Marie Le Conte, author of Haven’t You Heard: Gossip, Politics and Power, told Mace. 

‘Whether you’re a journalist, adviser or politician, you will be working very long hours in a space the size of a small village. The line between professional and personal becomes a blurry one after drinks in Strangers’.’

The author of the article also noted the importance a high-flying spouse can play in the rise of one’s own political career.  

‘Upcoming contenders for high-flying careers in this world must note: the secret to a power coupling consists of selecting very carefully – and hanging on to for dear life – a power spouse.’

Here, a look at some of the success stories…  

It takes two: Political power couples

Prime Minister Borris Johnson and Carrie Symonds, former Conservative Party communications director and special adviser 

George Osborne, editor-in-chief of the Evening Standard; former Chancellor and Thea Rogers, vice president of global communications and policy, Deliveroo; former special adviser to George Osoborne at the Treasury

Munira Mirza, head of No.10 policy unit and Dougie Smith, strategist and opposition researcher at No.10 

Sharon White, chair of the John Lewis Partnership; former CEO, Ofcom; former second permanent secretary, HM Treasury and Robert Chote, chairman of the Office of Budget Responsibility.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and Peter Murrell CEO, the Scottish National Party

Allegra Stratton, new No.10 spokeswoman; former director of communications for the Treasury and James Forsyth political editor, The Spectator

Dominic Cummings, director of strategy, No.10 and Mary Wakefield commissioning editor, The Spectator

Dido Harding, Conservative peer; head of the NHS test and trace programme; and John Penrose, former cabinet office minister; MP for Weston-super-Mare

Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs select committee; MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford and Ed Balls, former Home Secretary turned broadcaster

Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Sarah Vine, Daily Mail Columnist

MUNIRA MIRZA AND DOUGIE SMITH

No.10 newbies: Much fanfare surrounded the news that Dougie Smith, the co-founder of a group running orgies and swingers parties for the rich, had been given a job at No. 10. His wife Munira Mirza faced criticism when she was chosen to set up a UK race inequality commission

Much fanfare surrounded the news that Dougie Smith, the co-founder of a group running orgies and swingers parties for the rich, had been given a job at No. 10 earlier this year.  

Before moving into Tory politics in 2003, Dougie Smith co-founded Fever Parties, an agency which organised sex parties for up to 50 couples at a time from London’s ‘fast set’.

He was responsible for hosting orgies for the beautiful and wealthy in Mayfair townhouses. 

Trusted: Munira Mirza is head of Mr Johnson's policy unit

Trusted: Munira Mirza is head of Mr Johnson’s policy unit

He also worked as a coordinator for the think-tank Conservatives for Change. In 2003 he insisted his different work ventures did not ‘overlap’.

He has now landed a position as a strategist and opposition researcher in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s most senior political office.

His wife, Munira Mirza, holds the important role of head of Mr Johnson’s policy unit. 

In June she was asked to set up the new race inequality commission.

Supporters said at the time she is an advocate of data-driven policies, but campaigners and Labour MPs argued she is a denier of institutional racism and should not be playing a key role in the response to the BLM protests.

They also raised concerns over her alleged decision to give a role to Trevor Phillips, the former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, who has angered some with past comments on British Asian communities. 

In a 2017 piece for the Sun, Ms Mirza said that anti-racism campaigners have a ‘culture of grievance’ and appeasing them was ‘not making Britain a fairer place but harming the very people they aspire to help’. 

DIDO HARDING AND JOHN PENROSE

On the up: Baroness Harding of Winscombe, 53, the new head of the UK's test and trace programme is married to John Penrose, the Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare

On the up: Baroness Harding of Winscombe, 53, the new head of the UK’s test and trace programme is married to John Penrose, the Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare

This couple has become significantly more powerful in recent months after Dido Harding was announced as the head of the UK’s test and trace programme. 

Baroness Harding of Winscombe, 53, was raised on a Somerset pig farm and is the granddaughter of Field Marshall Lord Harding, the commander of the Desert Rats who became the most senior soldier in the British army.

A former jockey, she studied Policy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University, alongside David Cameron.

Upon graduating, she held a slew of roles at Thomas Cook, Woolworths, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

Baroness Harding was appointed CEO of TalkTalk in 2010, serving in the role for seven years, during which the company was the victim of a cyber attack that saw the personal and banking details of 157,000 customers accessed by hackers.

She was subjected to repeated blackmail attempts after the hack, with demands for Bitcoins in exchange for stolen data, which included customers’ names, email addresses, mobile numbers, home addresses and dates of birth

Baroness Harding faced repeated calls to step down over the breach, but stayed on until 2017, when she resigned to focus on her ‘public service activities’.

Later that year, she was appointed chair of NHS Improvement, responsible for overseeing all NHS hospitals.

A powerful figure, she refuses to believe her gender has ever held her back, nor will she endorse female quotas on company boards, which she sees as political meddling.

She also thinks that workers have too much maternity leave, despite admitting being the boss has allowed her to successfully juggle her own career with spending time with the two daughters she has with her husband, John Penrose, the Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare. 

Mr Penrose was once Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 

ALLEGRA STRATTON AND JAMES FORSYTH   

Allegra Stratton, the new spokeswoman for No.10 and formerly of the Treasury

Is married to James Forsyth, political editor of the Spectator

Media powerhouses: Former journalist Allegra Stratton (left), the new spokeswoman for No.10, is married to James Forsyth, political editor of the Spectator (right with Baroness Morgan)

TV career: Stratton quit ITV News to enter politics after co-presenting Peston on Sunday with Robert Peston. Pictured, with Sayeeda Warsi, Boris Johnson, Peston and Ed Balls

TV career: Stratton quit ITV News to enter politics after co-presenting Peston on Sunday with Robert Peston. Pictured, with Sayeeda Warsi, Boris Johnson, Peston and Ed Balls

This power couple is set to see their political cache rise even further when Allegra Stratton starts her new £100,000-a-year role as No. 10 spokeswoman next month. 

The highly-rated PR guru, a former BBC and ITV News journalist, was given the job by Boris Johnson after working for the Chancellor as director of communications at the Treasury. She will now front the new White House-style televised press briefings.

Ms Stratton, 39, has been credited with helping to boost the Chancellor’s public profile and increasing his popularity during the coronavirus crisis, having joined his team in April this year. 

The former journalist quit ITV News to enter politics after co-presenting Peston on Sunday with Robert Peston.

She also served as ITV News’ national editor, making her first appearance on the broadcaster’s News at Ten programme in January 2016.

Before that she worked at the BBC between 2012-2015 as political editor of Newsnight, replacing Michael Crick who left to become a correspondent for Channel 4.

Previously she was the Guardian’s political correspondent and presented the newspaper’s Politics Weekly podcast with Tom Clark.

Ms Stratton has also worked as a producer for the BBC, on the foreign desk at The Times and wrote for the Independent and the New Statesman.

Before embarking on her journalism career, Ms Stratton attended Cambridge University.

Her husband James Forsyth, who also attended Cambridge, is political editor of the Spectator and a close friend of Rishi Sunak. 

Rishi served as best man at James and Allegra’s 2011 wedding and the pair are godparents to each other’s children. 

Forsyth launched the Spectator’s Coffee House political blog in 2007. He was promoted to Deputy Editor, Online the following year and named Political Editor in 2008. 

SHARON WHITE AND ROBERT CHOTE 

Robert Chote, chief of the Office for Budget Responsibility

Sharon White, Chair of John Lewis & Partners

‘Mr and Mrs Treasury’: Sharon White, Chair of John Lewis & Partners, is married to Robert Chote, chief of the Office for Budget Responsibility. The pair prefer to keep a low profile

Dubbed ‘Mr and Mrs Treasury’, Robert Chote and Sharon White hold serious power in the private and public sectors. 

Ms White made headlines last year when she was announced as the new chair of John Lewis Partnerships – the first woman to hold the position in the company’s 155 year history. 

She left her job as chief executive of Ofcom to take over from current chairman of the retailer Sir Charlie Mayfield at the start of this year and was what her predecessor described as an ‘unlikely candidate’ thanks to her lack of retail experience. 

After becoming Second Permanent Secretary in 2013, The Voice named Ms White as the seventh most powerful black person in Britain.

She was born to Jamaican immigrant parents and was brought up in Leyton, east London, where she went to a state secondary school.

Ms White graduated from Cambridge with an economics degree before studying for her Master’s at University College London.

She had a number of senior civil servant roles at the Treasury and Ministry of Justice before she joined the media watchdog Ofcom in 2015. 

The mother-of-two was rumoured to be in the running to become the next Governor of the Bank of England, a £480,000-a-year role. 

She shares two children with Mr Chote, who served as the director of the influential think-tank Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) before succeeding Sir Alan Budd as chief of the Office for Budget Responsibility in 2010. 

Mr Chote, a former Financial Times journalist, had been director of the IFS since 2002, successfully cementing its reputation as a trusted arbiter of economic policy.

He was previously adviser to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, and Economics Editor of the Financial Times.

DOMINIC CUMMINGS AND MARY WAKEFIELD 

Under fire: No. 10 adviser Dominic Cummings and his wife Mary Wakefield, commissioning editor of the Spectator, made headlines for all the wrong reasons when it emerged they had broken quarantine rules and travelled across the country with suspected Covid-19

Under fire: No. 10 adviser Dominic Cummings and his wife Mary Wakefield, commissioning editor of the Spectator, made headlines for all the wrong reasons when it emerged they had broken quarantine rules and travelled across the country with suspected Covid-19

No. 10 adviser Dominic Cummings and his wife Mary Wakefield, commissioning editor of the Spectator, made headlines for all the wrong reasons earlier this year when it emerged they had broken quarantine rules and travelled across the country with suspected Covid-19.

Mr Cummings said he drove up to his parents’ property in Durham without stopping on March 27 after his wife became ill, before isolating with his family at the cottage.

Then on Easter Sunday he travelled to nearby Barnard Castle to test his eyesight before driving back to London.

Returning from that trip, Mr Cummings stopped the car so his son could go to the toilet on the side of the road, but insisted nobody was nearby at the time.

Mr Cummings also said that he went for a walk in nearby woods owned by his father while recovering himself, and saw some people but had no interaction.

He left Durham to return to London on April 13 – and claims that he made a second trip back to the North East with his family were later denied.

Mary, who shares two children with her husband, described her and her husband’s battle with coronavirus for a late-April edition.  

Mary is the daughter of Baronet Sir Humphry, 84, a former soldier and interior designer. 

BORIS JOHNSON AND CARRIE SYMONDS 

Fashionable first lady: Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 56, and his politically-savvy fiancée Carrie Symonds, 32, lead the way when it comes to political power couples. The couple, pictured in 2019, met when Mr Johnson was married to second wife Marina Wheeler

Fashionable first lady: Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 56, and his politically-savvy fiancée Carrie Symonds, 32, lead the way when it comes to political power couples. The couple, pictured in 2019, met when Mr Johnson was married to second wife Marina Wheeler

Keys to No.10: Carrie Symonds worked for the Conservative party before meeting Mr Johnson

The couple entering Downing Street

Keys to No.10: Carrie Symonds worked for the Conservative party before meeting Mr Johnson. Pictured, the couple in March this year (left) and entering Downing Street (right)

Family time: The couple on holiday in Scotland with their dog Dilyn and son Wilfred, pictured

Family time: The couple on holiday in Scotland with their dog Dilyn and son Wilfred, pictured

Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 56, and his politically-savvy fiancée Carrie Symonds, 32, lead the way when it comes to political power couples. 

The couple, who welcomed son Wilfred in April, met while Mr Johnson was still married to his second wife, Marina Wheeler, the mother of four of his children. Miss Symonds had worked as a Conservative staffer since 2009.

The affair came to light in September 2018 and Mr Johnson’s marriage to Ms Wheeler broke down shortly afterwards. 

During Ms Symonds and Mr Johnson’s turbulent relationship, she has been credited with transforming his public image, with the PM swapping his previously unruly, slap-dash outfits to a noticeably more polished look, with neatly cropped hair and a significantly slimmer waistline.

Ms Symonds’ image has also noticeably changed, her outfits and Instagram posts becoming more conservative as her relationship with Mr Johnson grew more serious.

But it’s not all been plain sailing, with the couple having a well-publicised plate-smashing row recorded by neighbours who claimed she yelled ‘get off me’ and ‘get out of my flat’ while he stayed at her flat in Camberwell, south London last year.

Ms Symonds has been dubbed the ‘Duchess of Downing Street’, a reference to the similarity of her fashion to Kate Middleton, as well as a nod to her growing power behind the scenes at Number 10. 

A passionate conservationist, she had a direct impact on government policy after a badger cull in Derbyshire was called off, a move that saved thousands of the animals.

Her association with Mr Johnson dates back to 2012, when Ms Symonds worked on the now-PM’s successful second London mayoral campaign.

Ms Symonds has ties to several other Tory figures, campaigning for Zac Goldsmith during the General Election and she is also thought to be a friend of ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid.

She joined the Tory party media machine in 2009, first as a press adviser, then head of broadcast at Conservative campaign headquarters ahead of the 2015 general election, before becoming communications chief in 2017. 

GEORGE OSBORNE AND THEA ROGERS 

Fledgling romance: George Osborne is dating his former chief of staff Thea Rogers who helped to overhaul his image when he served as Chancellor. Above, in 2015 before they were a couple

Fledgling romance: George Osborne is dating his former chief of staff Thea Rogers who helped to overhaul his image when he served as Chancellor. Above, in 2015 before they were a couple

Adviser: George Osborne with then-adviser Thea Rogers at the 2015 Spectator summer party

Adviser: George Osborne with then-adviser Thea Rogers at the 2015 Spectator summer party 

George Osborne is dating his former chief of staff who helped to overhaul his image when he served as Chancellor.

Mr Osborne, 49, revealed in May that he is in a relationship with part-French Thea Rogers, 38, who was one of his closest advisers while he was in government.

He had entered into the relationship with Ms Rogers, who graduated from Oxford University in 2003, ‘within the past year’, he said.

The former chancellor announced last summer that he had separated from his wife Frances, the mother of his two children

The former chancellor announced last summer that he had separated from his wife Frances, the mother of his two children

The former chancellor announced last summer that he had separated from his wife Frances, the mother of his two children. They have since divorced. 

Speaking of his relationship with Ms Rogers, head of strategy and communications at Deliveroo, 49-year-old Mr Osborne said: ‘I probably have never been happier in my life’.

After graduating from Oxford University with a first-class degree in modern languages and philosophy, Ms Rogers worked at the BBC and made her way up to be a lead political producer before moving into government in 2012.

She was hired as a political adviser by Mr Osborne, tasked with improving his image. With Seth Cummings, the ex-husband of Robert Rinder, she ‘metrosexualised’ the austerity chancellor by recommending a close-cropped haircut and new wardrobe. They also suggested that he lose weight through the 5:2 diet, which involves fasting for two days per week.

Ms Rogers was promoted to Mr Osborne’s chief of staff and received a 42 per cent pay rise to £98,000 after the Tory party won the 2015 election.

She previously dated Ameetpal Gill, David Cameron’s chief speechwriter-turned-director of strategy, and James Purnell, the former Labour Cabinet Minister.

Ms Rogers was involved in a row in 2007 as Mr Purnell faced questions over whether he broke the ministerial code by using his government car to take her on dates.

She is reportedly close friends with Sir Craig Oliver, Mr Cameron’s closest aide.

Before she worked on Newsnight and for Nick Robinson at the BBC, Ms Rogers was involved in Labour’s 2005 reelection campaign. 

NICOLA STURGEON AND PETER MURRELL 

Sturgeon and her 'sidekick': First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is married to Peter Murrell, the CEO of the Scottish national party. SNP colleagues revealed in 2015 that within the party, Murrell is affectionately nicknamed Penfold, after Danger Mouse's loyal hamster sidekick in the 1980s cartoon series. Pictured, Peter plants a kiss on Nicola in November 2014

Sturgeon and her ‘sidekick’: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is married to Peter Murrell, the CEO of the Scottish national party. SNP colleagues revealed in 2015 that within the party, Murrell is affectionately nicknamed Penfold, after Danger Mouse’s loyal hamster sidekick in the 1980s cartoon series. Pictured, Peter plants a kiss on Nicola in November 2014

Nicola Sturgeon with Mr Murrell in 2016

Nicola Sturgeon with Peter Murrell

By her side: Mr Murrell with wife Nicola Sturgeon. Pictured, the couple in 2016 (left) and 2019 

Hand-in-hand: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Peter Murrell in May 2015

Hand-in-hand: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Peter Murrell in May 2015

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is married to Peter Murrell, the CEO of the Scottish national party. But while Ms Sturgeon is a globally recognised figure, Mr Murrell maintains a relatively low profile.   

SNP colleagues revealed in 2015 that within the party, Murrell is affectionately nicknamed Penfold, after Danger Mouse’s loyal hamster sidekick in the 1980s cartoon series.

Meek, myopic and chubby, Penfold dutifully shouts ‘Coming chief’, whenever his superior summons him in the cartoons.

Some say the similarity extends further. Sturgeon doesn’t drive and her husband frequently acts as chauffeur. He also carries out the lion’s share of the domestic chores.

When Good Morning Britain’s Susanna Reid remarked on the immaculate condition of the couple’s detached house, Sturgeon said: ‘That’s because I had my husband up most of last night cleaning.’ 

However, anyone assuming that Murrell’s only role is that of dutiful house-husband would be sorely mistaken.

As chief executive of the SNP, he has transformed its fortunes, creating a formidable electoral machine.

In 2001, when he took on the role, the party had a paltry 6,000 members; today the SNP is the third-biggest party in the UK, with a membership of 125,482.

Murrell and his wife first met when Ms Sturgeon – an 18-year-old firebrand Left-winger – attended an SNP gathering which he helped to organise.

They were married in 2010 with a wedding cake created by the Scottish confectionery dynasty Tunnock’s.

YVETTE COOPER AND ED BALLS 

The only Labour couple to make the list is Labour heavyweight Yvette Cooper and politician-turned-broadcaster Ed Balls

Yvette and Ed are among the most well-established - and well-known - power couples in Westminster

Labour heavyweights: The only Labour couple to make the list is Labour heavyweight Yvette Cooper and politician-turned-broadcaster Ed Balls. Yvette and Ed are among the most well-established – and well-known – power couples in Westminster (left in 2019 and right in 2016)

Ambitious: In 2010, after her political mentor Gordon Brown was forced out of Downing Street, Ms Cooper stood aside to let Mr Balls stand for the Labour leadership. Pictured, in 2010

Ambitious: In 2010, after her political mentor Gordon Brown was forced out of Downing Street, Ms Cooper stood aside to let Mr Balls stand for the Labour leadership. Pictured, in 2010

The only Labour couple to make the list is Labour heavyweight Yvette Cooper and politician-turned-broadcaster Ed Balls. 

Yvette and Ed are among the most well-established – and well-known – power couples in Westminster. 

Ms Cooper first began working for the Labour party in 1990 after a stellar academic career at Oxford, Harvard and the London School of Economics – and a brief stint working for the former US President Bill Clinton.

Ms Cooper first joined the party working for Harriet Harman before being poached by Gordon Brown.

After a brief spell working as an economic journalist for the Independent newspaper, Ms Cooper became MP for the Labour safe seat of Pontefract and Castleford in 1997 – before steadily rising through the ranks, eventually becoming Gordon Brown’s Treasury Secretary.

In 1998, Miss Cooper and Mr Balls married at an Eastbourne wedding attended by the new Labour aristocracy.

Cooper served as Shadow Foreign Secretary from 2010 to 2011 and Shadow Home Secretary from 2011 to 2015. Ed Balls served as Shadow Home Secretary 2010 to 2011 and Shadow Chancellor from 2011 to 2015. 

In 2010, after her political mentor Gordon Brown was forced out of Downing Street, Ms Cooper stood aside to let Mr Balls stand for the Labour leadership.

Many analysts thought Labour’s power couple had chosen the wrong person. In the end, with Diane Abbott as the only woman on the ballot paper, Mr Balls finished a distant third behind the two Milibands.

In 2015 Ms Cooper announced she would run for leader of the Labour party but ultimately lost to Jeremy Corbyn. She was elected chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2016. 

Mr Balls was unseated in the 2015 election and has forged a career as a broadcaster after a successful stint on Strictly Come Dancing. He has since hosted documentaries and radio programmes for the BBC. 

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