All power to Princess Nut Nut!
Boris Johnson's Downing Street has been riven by a huge row and the dramatic departure of two of his closest aides - and Boris's fiancee may have been the one to wield the dagger.
What goings-on! Britain is Locked Down in the grip of a pandemic that has claimed more than 50,000 lives - talks with the European Union about a post-Brexit trade deal are at the 'now or never' moment - and Ten Downing Street, the Prime Minister's office, chose just this moment to break out in a civil war.
By all accounts - and we have quite a few, all anonymous and deeply contradictory - it was quite a bust-up. Nobody threw a punch but there were lots of verbal jabs, shouting matches and frosty silences. And it all reached a climax last Friday evening when - according to the most dramatic account of the showdown - Boris Johnson, the PM, summoned his two top aides into his office and told them: get out, now, and never come back!
Moments later, his main adviser, Dominic Cummings - the svengali sometimes described as Britain's second most powerful public figure (and sometimes as simply the most powerful) -walked out of Downing Street carrying a cardboard box containing the personal remnants of his time at the top. It was both photo opp and act of defiance.
The apparent victor in this power struggle is Princess Nut Nut. Well, that's the less than flattering name she was apparently given by Cummings and his buddies - usually spelt out in emojis. Her real name is Carrie Symonds. She's 32, she's the Prime Minister's fiancée, and she lives in the flat above the office at Ten Downing Street with Boris (he's 56 in case you are wondering, and when he marries Carrie she will become wife no. 3) and their six-month-old son, Wilfred.
Okay, so to make sense of it all, we need to step back a bit. When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister last year, having stabbed his predecessor in the back in true Shakespearean fashion, he brought with him Dominic Cummings, the campaign genius who was the mastermind of the successful Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Cummings is a T-shirt and trainers sort of guy, even when working in Downing Street. He is resolutely anti-establishment, seeing cowardly mid-career politicians and lazy 'let's-do-things-the-way-we-always-do-them' civil servants as the enemy. He wants to get things done, make things work, sort things out - and he wants those around him to do his bidding. If you don't, you're out.
Cummings became a household name when, early on in the pandemic, he flagrantly broke the Lockdown rules. He and his family, while almost certainly infected, drove hundreds of miles to stay close to relatives in the north of England. He was rumbled. He fessed up but toughed it out. Many public officials have been forced to resign for much more minor transgressions. But Boris Johnson refused to sack his right-hand man.
But Cummings is much better at putting together an iconoclastic campaign than running a major democracy, where part of the job is about achieving a consensus, not simply passing down orders. He annoyed just about everybody: cabinet ministers; top civil servants; Conservative MPs ... and Carrie Symonds, who seems to have regarded him as largely responsible for the repeated U-turns, appalling PR and general dysfunctional confusion which has dogged Boris's time in Number Ten. She seems to have told her partner to 'get a grip'.
So Boris staged a revamp of his communications team ... which enraged Cummings. To balance things up, Boris planned to appoint a Cummings ally as his chief of staff ... which infuriated Carrie. Stomp, stomp, stomp; bitch, bitch, bitch; stab, stab, stab. The two sides did battle by way of leaks and unattributable briefings to selected journalists. "Carrie's pulling all the strings, it's pathetic" ... "Cummings is behaving like a bully, it's appalling" ... that sort of thing. All hugely entertaining, but what a way to run a country.
The PM's patience wore thin when he was told that Cummings and Co were briefing journalists against him, accusing him of being indecisive and a ditherer. It snapped when he discovered that his beloved was being mocked as Princess Nut Nut. He gave Cummings and another top aide the boot. Nothing indecisive there!
It is, of course, unsettling that Ms Symonds, who is not only unelected but also holds no role in the government of any kind, appears to call the shots. There was a chorus of complaint in the media about Carrie's unaccountable power - though there's nothing all that new in a Prime Minister's partner having a hand in appointments and policy.
What has saved Carrie Symonds has been the widespread relief of the Conservative Party and the British public that the unpleasant and abrasive Cummings has been sidelined. Perhaps now there may be a more pragmatic approach to the last-ditch Brexit trade talks and a more measured and consistent approach to governance.
It's not the slogan that anyone would have uttered or even understood a week ago, but many in Britain are saying to themselves: All Power to Princess Nut Nut!
Header image: Photographer: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg via Getty Images