From the verandah of his Blofeld-style hideaway, Lord Ashcroft contemplates the setting sun. Pitching his white cat from his lap, he reaches for his Havana, and puffs at it meditatively.
His last two biographies have been of mainstream politicians. These tend to be conventional people – few more so than, in their different ways, those books’ subjects: Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak.
For the next one, he wants something different…something livelier…something to make pulses race faster and eyebrows rise higher. Who will suit?
Perplexed for a moment, he frowns. From the depths of his swimming pool, the pirahnas shimmer in the fading light. And then, all at once, the idea comes to him with the force of divine revelation. Yes!
He has it. In the words of a phrase from Titus Groan, his face remains like a mask. But deep down in his stomach he grins…
Now we must leave our proprietor’s Belizeian lair, return to the present, and consider the new biography itself, or at least its serialisation in the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday.
No special gadgetry from Q is required to work out what is going on. Lord Ashcroft is in a race against the clock to get the book out before Boris Johnson is forced out (assuming that happens).
Is the biography itself crafted to speed that end? I have received no instructions from SPECTRE and so can offer no special insight.
But my experience suggests that conspiracy theories are wide of the mark, and that the reason for the book is as my intro suggests: our proprietor likes to make news and get talked about.
And tell us more in his books about someone in the public eye. Which raises a question: is Carrie Johnson fair game?
After all, she isn’t a politician. So some will consider it unsporting to put her in the public eye in this way. Especially since she’s in no position to respond on the record.
To get a perspective on the matter, it’s necessary to consider the part that any Prime Ministerial spouse must play in the life of their partner.
Who you come back to after work makes a big difference to a politician, especially a Minister. After all, who else will tell you: “you made a fool of yourself today”?
Your civil servants won’t. Nor will your SpAds. Your spouse is the person most likely, in that well-worked phrase, to “tell truth to power”, and buck you up when you’re down.
And when the spouse is the Prime Minister, the stakes for the public are higher – since how the latter reacts to the behaviour of the former, let alone to advice they offer, can affect what the Government does.
Some recent spouses have been all but invisible in political terms: consider Sarah Brown, of whom scarcely an unpleasant word has ever been written.
Others have been more visible. Consider Philip May, who might himself have been a Conservative MP in different circumstances, and was clearly his wife’s closest counsellor.
Again, scarcely a disparaging word has ever been written about Sir Philip. If he could advise the last Prime Minister, Carrie Johnson’s supporters ask, why can’t she advise this one?
Yes, there is sexism in some of the criticisms levelled at her. Indeed, “Lady Macbeth Carrie Symonds” (Mrs Johnson’s maiden name) comes up as a Google Search term.
However, there is a big difference in the C.Vs of this prime ministerial spouse and the last one. Philip May has worked in banking since graduating.
Until 2018, by contrast, Carrie Johnson had spent her working career in politics: first as a press officer, then as a SpAd, then as the Conservatives’ Director of Communications.
This gives her an in-depth knowledge of Tory politicians, SpAds and journalists of a depth that Sir Philip would not have had.
This would make no difference to anything much were she a spectator rather than a player: had she recused herself in the manner of a Sarah Brown or a Norma Major.
Or voiced her views occasionally like a Denis Thatcher, Cherie Blair or Samantha Cameron. Carrie Johnson has gone further.
It isn’t necessary to believe all the charges that Dominic Cummings hurls at her head to accept that she has had her hands in appointments.
Simone Finn and Henry Newman, who I first knew as Francis Maude’s reforming SpAds in the Coalition days, are friends of Mrs Johnson’s.
The first became Downing Street’s Deputy Chief of Staff, and the second a senior Spad, during the last major shake-up in Number 10 before this one.
And it hasn’t been denied that Carrie Johnson pushed her husband to employ Dominic Cummings before the last election and then to sack him after it had taken place.
She may thus have helped to shape the biggest insider Government event of this Parliament to date: the defenestration of the Prime Minister’s former SpAd, with the consequences that have followed.
The Mustique holiday, Downing Street wallpaper, Afghan dogs, at least one Downing Street party (or staff gathering, if you prefer).
Carrie Johnson’s name keeps coming up in relation to all these, sometimes unfairly, sometimes not. And though she can’t really respond on the record her friends certainly will do so off it.
The line will be that this new book is crafted to bring her husband down. The crucial audience deciding his future will be Conservative MPs.
I don’t know how they will view it amidst the torrid mix of current events, including Sue Gray’s unseen report, changes in Downing Street and the police inquiry into parties.
But they may cut Carrie Johnson less slack than they would have done six months ago, when her husband was riding high in the polls.
Though if the Mail projects any unverified claims in this new book – equivalents of the report of David Cameron having engaged in unconventional activity with a pig’s head – Tory opinion may swing back in Mrs Johnson’s favour.
Certainly, the extracts so far pitch largely on-the-record quotes by her defenders against off-the-record ones from her critics.
From one point of view, this could be because those who know her best like her. From another, it’s that people in Toryland are frightened of the consequences of speaking out.
So it is true that “Carrie Johnson’s behaviour is preventing the Prime Minister leading Britain as effectively as the voters deserve,” as our proprietor claims?
The full book may help us to reach a decision: all I can say is that such is my impression of the consensus view in Westminster, at least among Ministers, MPs and SpAds.
I’ve been told that among those who express this opinion from time to time is Johnson himself. Which isn’t to say that he would necessarily mean it, given his propensity to conceal his thoughts and intentions.
But whether the charge is true or not, it deflects from the main point. Which is that the Prime Minister himself, not his spouse, bears responsibility for his decisions.
It would be unfair to blame others for them, even his politically-engaged wife. After all, he chooses who he divorces, marries and has children with. And in the midst so much change on all those fronts, he nearly died from Covid.
This is not the most tranquil platform to have been governing the country from. The effects have been visible even to far-off Bond villains in their sun-kissed lairs, whoever they are and wherever they may be.