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Inside politics

Downing Street’s other power couple

Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Dougie Smith and Munira Mirza are Downing Street’s “second couple”, says Matt d’Ancona in Tortoise. Smith’s age can only be narrowed down to 57 or 58, and only one blurry photo of him exists online. He’s stuck around the Conservative party for years, as David Cameron’s speechwriter and a party HQ activist under Theresa May. Now he’s Boris Johnson’s organiser and fixer, who helped draw up the pro-Brexit list of Tory candidates in the 2019 election. He also used his talent for “vetting people” at Fever , a sex party business.

His wife, meanwhile, is the head of Downing Street’s policy unit. A former Trotskyite born to British Pakistani parents, the 43-year-old was named by Johnson as one of the five most influential woman in his career in 2020. No wonder: she’s termed the “Boris whisperer” by one Cabinet minister, and Johnson ran key Covid decisions past her at the height of the pandemic last year. But her main role is as his chief lieutenant in the culture wars. She’s leading a woke-bashing strategy to fill cultural institutions with “pro-Boris loyalists” and secure an even bigger, “Blair-style” majority at the next election.

Biden can sleep easy

New Democratic presidents usually inspire a wave of doom-mongering – and lucrative – conservative books, says McKay Coppins in The Atlantic. But not in Joe Biden’s case. The right-wing media’s portrayal of him as a “weak, addled old man” doesn’t exactly stretch to 300 pages. “If somebody came to me and was, like, ‘I have a book on Biden’s secret plan to destroy America’,” says Broadside Books’s Eric Nelson: “I would ask, ‘How many times does the word nap  appear in the index?’”

Boris’s details man

Tory MP Neil O’Brien has been tasked with making the PM’s vague promise of “levelling up” a reality, says Emilio Casalicchio in Politico. O’Brien, 42, is a “veteran think-tanker” who was educated at a Huddersfield state school and has been studying regional inequality for years. He worked on George Osborne’s northern powerhouse project and was writing about how the Tories could win the “red wall” back in 2012. Despite his “allergy to Westminster schmoozing”, he’s known for his intellectual nous: one Conservative MP describes his brain as a “whirring computer”.

Now O’Brien has the tools to “make his obsession a reality”. He’s been tasked to deliver a white paper on levelling up later this year. It’s a tall order: regional inequality has been “stubbornly resistant” to decades of government intervention. But Johnson delivering on his levelling-up vision is seen as the only way he can hang on to red-wall voters for another general election.