Inside the Westminster power couples running British politics

Camilla Tominey
·5-min read
Dominic Cummings is married to Mary Wakefield, commissioning editor at The Spectator - Equinox Features/Equinox Features
Dominic Cummings is married to Mary Wakefield, commissioning editor at The Spectator - Equinox Features/Equinox Features

The recent appointment of Allegra Stratton as No 10’s new press secretary has once again shone the spotlight on the power couples at the heart of Westminster life. The former Guardian journalist is married to James Forsyth, the political editor of The Spectator, whose best man was none other than the chancellor, Rishi Sunak.

Little wonder then, that the couple, who have two children together, now feature in a top 10 of the most powerful partnerships in politics. Published by Mace, a new glossy magazine for politicos, the influential index lays bare the relationships that confirm the old adage that behind every successful person is... another successful person.

“The Westminster bubble is small and quite hermetic,” explains Marie Le Conte, author of Haven’t You Heard?: Gossip, Politics and Power. “Whether you’re a journalist, adviser or politician, you will be working very long hours in a space that is the size of a small village. The line between professional and personal becomes a blurry one after drinks in Strangers.”

Allegra Stratton, Former ITV News Editor, arrives in Downing Street. She is the Head of Communications for Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Allegra Stratton, Former ITV News Editor, arrives in Downing Street. She is the Head of Communications for Chancellor Rishi Sunak

Though that line may become a little clearer, now the sale of alcohol has been banned at all House of Commons bars. Naturally, the PM, 55, tops the list with his 32 year-old fiancée, the former Conservative Party communications director and special advisor, but Symonds has largely stayed out of the political fray except for the odd subtle intervention on the environment.

The same can probably not be said of Sarah Vine, newspaper columnist-wife of Cabinet Office minister and one-time Tory leadership rival, Michael Gove. As Mace put it: “While her husband flip-flopped over facemasks, his Westminster WAG was formidable. ‘We all have to die sooner or later,’ she tweeted, setting his name trending.”

Sarah Vine and Michael Gove - Yui Mok/PA
Sarah Vine and Michael Gove - Yui Mok/PA

It is no secret that the Goves fell out spectacularly with David and Samantha Cameron over Brexit – although perhaps notably they are placed at number 10 in the list while the former premier and his creative director wife do not even make the top 50.

Conversely, Cameron’s sidekick, former chancellor George Osborne, not only makes the list but is judged to be half of the third most powerful political couple on account of his relationship with former treasury adviser Thea Rogers, who is Deliveroo’s vice-president of global communications and policy. It seems Osborne’s tenure as editor-in-chief of the Evening Standard has kept him in with the big boys and girls.

George Osborne and Thea Rogers - Alan Davidson/Shutterstock
George Osborne and Thea Rogers - Alan Davidson/Shutterstock

In fourth place is Munira Mirza, No 10’s director of policy, and her husband, the Downing Street strategist Dougie Smith, who was the co-founder of Fever parties, a London-based organisation known for hosting “five-star orgies" in the townhouses of Kensington, Chelsea and Mayfair.

Less controversial at number five in the index is Sharon White, chair of the John Lewis Partnership, and her husband Robert Chote, chairman of the Office of Budget Responsibility. First minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and her similarly independent-minded husband Peter Murrell, CEO of the SNP, are in at six, followed by Stratton and Forsyth at seven.

Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell - MB Media/Getty Images Europe
Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell - MB Media/Getty Images Europe

Unsurprisingly, the PM’s chief strategist, Dominic Cummings makes the top 10 at number eight – thanks not only to his own propensity for garnering newspaper headlines but also his wife Mary Wakefield’s role as commissioning editor of The Spectator.

Baroness Dido Harding makes it into the top 10 at number nine, on the back of her new role as head of the NHS Test and Trace programme. Yet the Tory peer’s rise through the Conservative ranks has also attracted allegations of cronyism thanks to her 25-year marriage to former minister John Penrose, who has been the MP for Weston-super-Mare since 2005. Much has been made of her Oxford pedigree, where she studied politics, philosophy and economics alongside David Cameron.

John Penrose and Dido Harding - Nick Harvey/Getty Images
John Penrose and Dido Harding - Nick Harvey/Getty Images

The only Labour power couple to scrape into the top 10 is Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls – further down the index are Angela Eagle, the MP for Wallasey and her civil partner, Maria Exall, branch secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union. Mother of the House, Harriet Harman, who acted as leader of the Opposition between Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn in 2015, also features alongside her trade unionist husband Jack Dromey, the MP for Birmingham Erdington.

Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper - Paul Hackett/Reuters
Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper - Paul Hackett/Reuters

On the right are Tory veterans Anne and Bernard Jenkin, who married in 1988, four years after meeting at the Conservative Party conference, and former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, who married her Conservative colleague Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, in a scaled-down Westminster ceremony last month.

The index also features media love matches, including ITV political editor Robert Peston and his girlfriend of three years, Charlotte Edwardes, an interviewer and feature writer at The Times. Tom Bower, who recently published a biography of Boris Johnson, entitled The Gambler, features alongside his spouse of 35 years, Veronica Wadley, the former editor of the Evening Standard, while Sky News presenter Adam Boulton makes the top 50 with his wife Anji Hunter, a former director of government relations and adviser to Tony Blair.

Politics has long been described as showbusiness for ugly people. But as in the world of celebrity, this power list suggests that the most influential movers and shakers are often those who come as a double act.