Britain’s political power couples — ranked

LONDON —  Politics is a passionate business and — from the prime minister on down — Westminster’s awash with loved-up political pairings.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, POLITICO brings you the definitive, not exactly scientifically-ranked 2022 list of British politics’ power couples.

1. Boris and Carrie Johnson

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and wife Carrie Johnson | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The couple everyone in Westminster has an opinion on — the prime minister and his former Tory comms chief wife Carrie take the top spot in our inaugural rankings. For all his Partygate woes, Boris Johnson is still leader of the U.K. and his relationship with Carrie is the source of endless column inches and chatter.

Depending on who you speak to (and what particular axe they have to grind), Carrie has real political clout of her own. Allies see an experienced comms and campaigns pro subject to a bitter briefing campaign, while detractors argue she holds inappropriate power behind the Johnson throne. Whatever the truth, there’s plenty to chew over — in fact, a whole gossipy book has just been written on the subject.

2. Karen Pierce and Charles Roxburgh

The U.K.’s top diplomat in Washington and the second permanent secretary at the Treasury are the ultimate civil service power couple.

Pierce has held multiple high-profile diplomatic roles, including as U.K. permanent representative to the United Nations and ambassador to Afghanistan. Roxburgh, not a civil service lifer, joined the Treasury in February 2013. As big-hitters in diplomacy and economic policy respectively, they’re both very much part of the current political action.

3. Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell

Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell | Julian Finney/Getty Images

As the first couple of Scottish independence, this pairing has nothing less than the future makeup of the United Kingdom in their hands. Sturgeon is Scottish first minister, while Murrell runs the Scottish National Party as its chief executive. They will have been married 12 years this summer.

The pair faced their biggest test as a political couple last year when they came under intense scrutiny over their role in the Scottish government’s botched handling of complaints against Sturgeon’s predecessor, Alex Salmond.

4. Liam Booth-Smith and Olivia Oates

Booth-Smith and Oates hold key political jobs in the increasingly-powerful Treasury — Booth-Smith as Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s chief of staff, and Oates as a senior aide to Sunak’s deputy Simon Clarke. The pair are due to get married this summer.

With Sunak one of the frontrunners in the event Johnson is ousted by his MPs, it’s a political pairing to watch closely.

5. Declan Lyons and Sophia True

Another Downing Street love match. Lyons is at the heart of the prime minister’s No. 10 Downing Street operation as his political secretary. He got engaged to True, a No. 10 political adviser who is the daughter of Tory House of Lords member Nicholas True, last year. 

6. Natalie Evans and James Wild

Evans and Wild don’t get written about much, but both operate right at the heart of government. Evans sits at the Cabinet table as leader of the House of Lords, while Wild, a former special adviser who is now a Conservative MP, has taken his first step on the ministerial career ladder as parliamentary private secretary to Tory Party Chairman Oliver Dowden.

7. Rachel Reeves and Nicholas Joicey 

If the opposition Labour Party wins the next election this pairing could shoot up the power couple rankings.

Reeves, currently shadow chancellor, would become one of the most powerful people in Britain. Her husband Joicey already has an important job in government as director general for finance at the Department for Work and Pensions.

8. Dominic Cummings and Mary Wakefield

Dominic Cummings and his wife Mary Wakefield | Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Cummings is not in power anymore, but it’s hard to argue that the former top No.10 aide and mastermind of the U.K.’s official Brexit campaign isn’t still making the political weather. He’s been a constant thorn in Johnson’s side since leaving government, berating the prime minister’s pandemic handling and urging Tory MPs to oust him.

Cummings is married to Wakefield, commissioning editor at the influential Tory-leaning Spectator magazine, pored over by Johnson’s own MPs. Make no mistake, these two are still very much part of the conversation.

9. Munira Mirza and Dougie Smith

These two would have been much higher up the power ranking if Mirza hadn’t just quit as head of Boris Johnson’s policy unit. Relied upon as Johnson’s brain since his time as mayor of London, she’s very well-regarded and it’ll be well worth watching her next move. Smith, an adviser to the prime minister, has not announced his departure from No. 10 for now, so these two are unlikely to drop out of the political circuit anytime soon.

10. Allegra Stratton and James Forsyth

Stratton would be much higher up the rankings too had she not been the first aide to quit government over the Partygate scandal.

She resigned almost immediately after being caught on camera joking at a mock press conference about claims parties were held in 10 Downing Street amid coronavirus restrictions. But Stratton — married to the well-connected Forsyth, political editor of the Spectator — won praise for her contrition. The swift exit certainly put her stock up should she wish to make a comeback.

Don’t forget these two are very close to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, a leadership frontrunner. Sunak and Forsyth attended the same high school, the prestigious Winchester College, and the chancellor is widely reported to have been the best man at Stratton and Forsyth’s wedding.

11. Isabel Bruce and Harry Methley

Another special adviser match to watch – especially if you’re a journalist looking to gauge the Cabinet mood. Bruce is Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis’ media SpAd while Methley spins for Home Secretary Priti Patel.

12. Pippa Crerar and Tom Whitehead 

Top Partygate scoop-monger Pippa Crerar, the political editor of the Daily Mirror, is one half of a journalist-civil service power couple. She is married to ex-Telegraph hack Tom Whitehead, who’s now head of comms for the government’s vaccines roll-out and NHS resilience at the Department for Health.

13. Jenny Chapman and Nick Smith 

Chapman is a key ally of Labour leader Keir Starmer, chairing his leadership campaign and now serving as shadow Brexit minister. She would undoubtedly be a big figure in any future Labour government. Her husband Nick Smith has been a Labour MP for more than a decade and has served as an opposition whip, tasked with enforcing party discipline.

14. Amelia Gentleman and Jo Johnson

Jo Johnson, brother of Boris, is no longer an MP, but he’s still part of that powerful clan — and has a House of Lords seat to boot. He is married to the agenda-setting Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman who was instrumental in highlighting a scandal over the U.K.’s ill-treatment of an entire generation of Caribbean arrivals to the U.K. in the 1970s.

15. Nickie and Alex Aiken

A former power player in Westminster local government, Nickie Aiken, now a Conservative MP, is married to veteran Whitehall comms pro Alex Aiken. He’s executive director of government communications, a powerful civil service role.

16. Dido Harding and John Penrose

Harding, a Conservative peer and businesswoman, ran the U.K.’s much-criticized coronavirus test and trace scheme. While she’s no longer in that job, she made a bid to become chief executive of the National Health Service in England last year, suggesting she’s still got eyes on a big job. Penrose is no longer a minister, but he’s been highly regarded by successive prime ministers, and currently serves as Johnson’s anti-corruption champion, where he’s been increasingly punchy.

17. Kate Bingham and Jesse Norman

Bingham, a British venture capitalist, raised eyebrows when she was appointed as the prime minister’s unpaid vaccine czar at the height of the pandemic in 2020. Critics, pointing to her marriage to the then-Treasury minister Jesse Norman, cried cronyism.

But Bingham has since been lauded for her role in backing the right vaccines and securing plenty of doses, helping the U.K. deliver one of the fastest rollouts in the world. Bingham stood down from that role at the end of 2020, but given her political cache it is unlikely we’ve heard the last of her. Norman, who’s held a string of ministerial roles, left government in a recent reshuffle, but on good terms.

18. Bernard and Anne Jenkin

Veterans of political coupledom, these two have been around politics for a long time. Bernard Jenkin is a Conservative grandee and chairman of the powerful House of Commons liaison committee, which is comprised of all the other committee chairs and grills the prime minister. Anne Jenkin co-founded the Conservative initiative to get more women into politics and sits in the House of Lords as a Tory peer.

19. Rachel Wolf and James Frayne

Wolf, a former adviser to Michael Gove and a longstanding ally of Dominic Cummings, co-wrote Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto. She is married to James Frayne, the former director of communications at the Department for Education and a columnist with the Tory grassroots website ConservativeHome. The pair co-founded the well-regarded lobbying agency Public First, and both are regular commentators on chunky policy issues.

20. Ellie Reeves and John Cryer 

Ellie Reeves is a Labour rising star and shadow justice minister, who also happens to be the sister of fellow shadow Cabinet power player Rachel Reeves. She’s married to fellow Labour MP John Cryer, who represents Leyton and Wanstead.

21. Esther McVey and Philip Davies

Former Cabinet minister and former TV presenter Esther McVey and backbench Tory MP Philip Davies are very much the power couple of the Conservative right. The Mirror recently dubbed them the “first couple of freebies” after they both declared receiving VIP tickets for horse racing, motorsport, football and tennis events. Clearly we’re not the only ones who think they’re powerful.

22. Andrea Jenkyns and Jack Lopresti

Another Tory MP couple, Jenkyns and Lopresti married in 2017. Their relationship was revealed by the Sun newspaper with the unforgettable headline “Christmas humpers.” They now have a son who they jokingly call “Brexit Clifford” because he was born on the day Article 50 was triggered which began the process of the U.K. leaving the EU.

23. Robert Peston and Charlotte Edwardes

Peston, ITV’s political editor, is one half of another media power couple. His partner is Charlotte Edwardes, the Times’ high-profile feature writer.

24. Sebastian Payne and Sophia Gaston

It’s a tale as old as time: wonk meets journalist. Gaston is director at the well-regarded think tank British Foreign Policy Group. She is married to Payne, Whitehall editor at the Financial Times and author of the definitive book on the big electoral upset that got Boris Johnson into power.

25. Isabel Hardman and John Woodcock

Hardman, assistant editor at the Spectator and a top political commentator, is married to the former Labour MP John Woodcock. Woodcock now sits in the House of Lords as Baron Walney and was made Johnson’s independent adviser on political violence and disruption in 2020.

26. Matt Dathan and Harriet Line

Both rising stars among Westminster’s lobby reporters, Dathan is the Times’ home affairs editor, while Line is the Mail’s chief political correspondent. Both potential political editors of the future?

27. JoJo Penn and Craig Woodhouse 

Penn, a long-standing and loyal aide to Theresa May when she was prime minister, now sits in the House of Lords as Baroness Penn of Teddington. She was the first ever serving Lords minister to formally take maternity leave under a new law after having a baby with Craig Woodhouse, an-ex journalist who is currently director of comms at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

28. Cat Smith and David Linden

One of Westminster’s more unlikely pairings, Smith and Linden have found love across the political divide. Smith is a Labour MP and an ally of former leader Jeremy Corbyn who resigned from Keir Starmer’s team over Corbyn’s continued suspension from the party. Linden is a Scottish National Party MP.

Who knows, in the event of a hung parliament at the next election the pair could be crucial power-brokers — and show their colleagues how a Labour and SNP coalition is done.

29. Nick Gibb and Michael Simmonds

A well-known and well-liked Westminster pairing. Nick Gibb, a long-serving schools minister sacked by Johnson at a recent government reshuffle, is one of the few Tories to go public with the fact he has written a letter of no-confidence in the prime minister. He is married to Michael Simmonds, the former chief executive of polling organization Populus, who now runs a consultancy with Tory peer Andrew Cooper.

30. Richard Tice and Isabel Oakeshott

The Reform Party, which Tice leads, might not be the electoral force of his previous Tory-spooking outfit, the Brexit Party, but Conservative MPs always have one eye on a potential challenger. Oakeshott, a former Sunday Times political editor, remains a prominent media voice.

31. Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls

Yvette Coope and her husband Ed Balls | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Cooper was recently brought back onto the front bench by Starmer as his shadow home secretary and is undoubtedly a Labour power player again. Balls, while no longer in Westminster, is still very much in the public eye making documentaries for the BBC and forging a career as a celebrity panelist. Perhaps the most popular Labour figure around? (Sorry Yvette) 

32. Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo

Matt Hancock gestures to the media before appearing on The Andrew Marr show on the BBC, followed by Gina Coladangelo | Hollie Adams/Getty Image

Not quite as powerful as they were before their affair was sensationally revealed by the Sun newspaper, but these two merit inclusion given Hancock, the former health secretary, is the king of comebacks. Coladangelo’s relationship with Hancock came out when they were caught in a coronavirus rule-breaching embrace in CCTV footage which was leaked from Hancock’s department. Coladangelo, a former Luther Pendragon lobbyist, was controversially a non-executive director at the Department for Health and Social Care — and the pair were recently snapped enjoying what the Daily Mail dubbed an “Alpine love break.”

33. Virginia and Peter Bottomley

Queen Elizabeth II greets Peter and Virginia Bottomley | WPA pool photo by Jonathan Brady via Getty Images

Another veteran power couple, Virginia and Peter Bottomley have been a Westminster fixture for decades. Conservative MP Peter is now father of the House of Commons — the MP with the longest continuous service. His wife Virginia, a former health secretary in John Major’s government, can be found on the other side of Parliament’s Central Lobby — she’s a Conservative peer in the House of Lords.

34. Andrew Smith and Salma Shah

The current Lord Mayor of Westminster Andrew Smith is a big-hitter in London local government. His wife, former political adviser Salma Shah, is also plugged into the political scene. Shah currently works for lobbying outfit Portland and remains close to her old boss Health Secretary Sajid Javid. Were Javid to have another run at his party leadership and win, Shah would be hotly-tipped to get a call-up. 

35. Liv Bailey and Finn McGoldrick

A very Labour power couple. Bailey is head of domestic policy for the opposition party and McGoldrick is political advisor to shadow Cabinet minister Jonathan Reynolds. The pair were among the first to get married when same-sex marriage became legal.

36. Paul Ovenden and Kate Forrester

Another top Labour aide pairing. Ovenden, a former Labour deputy director of comms is now a senior aide to leader Keir Starmer. His partner Kate Forrester is a former PoliticsHome and HuffPost journalist who’s now an adviser to Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon. 

37. Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Stephen Kinnock

Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Stephen Kinnock | Schiller Graphics/Getty Images

Here’s a global power-couple. Thorning-Schmidt, the former Danish prime minister, is married to Kinnock, now a shadow defense minister on Keir Starmer’s front bench.

38. Matthew and Sarah Elliott

The very definition of a transatlantic power couple. Matthew Elliott has long been around U.K. politics and chaired the Vote Leave campaign for Brexit. Sarah Elliott is the spokesperson for Republicans Overseas in the U.K. and can often be found in the broadcast studios chatting U.S. politics.

39. Jon Cruddas and Anna Healy

Cruddas, a Labour MP and one of the party’s big thinkers, is married to long-serving Labour Party special adviser Healy, who was made a life peer in 2010 and sits in the House of Lords.

40. Ed and Emily Davey

Ed Davey and wife Emily | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

These days there aren’t enough Liberal Democrat MPs left for many power couples to flourish but … Ed Davey’s wife is a Lib Dem councilor and has stood as a candidate for the party. So that’ll have to do.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct Gina Coladangelo’s name.



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