Britain’s Westminster power couples — 2024 ranking

LONDON — Forget the backstabbing and plotting for just a moment — romance is in the air in Westminster again this Valentine’s Day.

In time-honored tradition, POLITICO is celebrating the annual festival of love by bringing you the top political power couples of 2024. As usual, these are definitely not scientifically ranked…

Out of the running

The political sands have shifted since last February — and so has the power of some of our pairings.

A year ago, then-Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and husband Peter Murrell were riding high as the all-powerful twosome atop the Scottish National Party. After a torrid year during which both quit their posts and were questioned by police amid a party finances probe — and released pending further investigation — they miss the cut altogether this year. 

Boris and Carrie Johnson are also out after the ex-prime minister surrendered his House of Commons seat last summer. His wife now attracts more column inches as a kids’ birthday party Instagram influencer than as the subject of hostile briefings from disgruntled political aides.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan and husband Michael also fail to make the grade after he quit his Cabinet Office role last month as the Post Office scandal engulfed his old employer Fujitsu. 

There are still plenty of powerful pairings left, of course — so get ready for the loved-up class of 2024.

1. Rishi Sunak and Akshata Murty

Let’s face it, you don’t get more powerful than the PM. These two get top billing after the once reticent Murty got stuck into the battle to get her husband re-elected. She took to the stage at last year’s Conservative Party conference, making a surprise — and highly personal — speech giving the British leader’s qualities the hard sell. Murty is an international power player in her own right. She is a shareholder in her family’s IT company Infosys, and appears on the Sunday Times Rich List with her husband. Her business interests have, at times, caused her husband political headaches. Sunak and Murty should relish their time in the top spot while they can — polls suggest they may not be riding quite so high next year. 

2. Rachel Reeves and Nicholas Joicey 

Labour’s poll lead remains stubbornly high, which means this couple keeps a prime spot in this year’s POLITICO rankings. As things stand, Reeves is on course to be the next chancellor of the exchequer, and could be the first woman to hold the top U.K. finance job. Her husband Nicholas Joicey has a high-flying civil service career — although these two drop down to second place after he moved from his director general role in the Cabinet Office right at the heart of government to the less prominent Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as second permanent secretary last year.

3. Rupert Yorke and Nerissa Chesterfield

Yorke and Chesterfield are two of Rishi Sunak’s most trusted, and most senior, aides. They are alumni of the joint economic unit, set up by Dominic Cummings to keep the Treasury in check in the Boris Johnson era. Like most aides in that team, they became Sunak loyalists and have been in the trenches together through thick and thin. Yorke is now the PM’s deputy chief of staff, and has the unenviable task of keeping fractious Tory MPs in line. Chesterfield, Sunak’s director of communications, is running the all-important media strategy — a hugely important job in an election year.

4. Emma Little-Pengelly and Richard Pengelly

Little-Pengelly’s recent appointment as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister makes the unionist one of the biggest power players in devolved government. The first and deputy first ministers of Northern Ireland hold joint office and have equal power under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Little-Pengelly’s husband is another big player in Stormont, as permanent secretary of Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice . He was one of the civil servants who kept the show on the road for the last couple of years while politicians (including his wife) squabbled.

Emma Little-Pengelly | Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/Northern Ireland Assembly via Getty Images

5. Pat and Marianna McFadden  

The McFaddens will be crucial players in the team tasked with delivering victory for Labour Leader Keir Starmer in this year’s election.

As Starmer’s national campaign co-ordinator, Pat is a regular on the broadcast round, and is furiously preparing for the election behind the scenes. He is a veteran of Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide election. If Labour wins, he’ll be in charge of the powerful Cabinet Office which holds many of the levers of power across Whitehall.

Marianna, who was head of insight at the influential Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, is now deputy campaign director at Labour HQ — another key role for the opposition this year.

6. Esther McVey and Philip Davies

McVey jumps up the power rankings after finding herself back in the Cabinet, tasked with offering a dose of common sense. As a result she has given up her lucrative GB News show with husband and fellow Tory MP Philip Davies. The pair would have climbed the rankings anyway thanks to their high GB News profiles. The channel is becoming increasingly influential among grassroots Tory members.   

7. Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls

Cooper remains one of Labour’s most senior frontbenchers, and as shadow home secretary in an election year expected to be dominated by immigration policy, she’ll be at the eye of the storm. Her husband Ed Balls’ recent foray into political podcasting also sees these two shoot up the rankings. Balls, a Labour former shadow chancellor and power player the last time the party was in government, launched the Political Currency podcast with his one-time Tory opposite number George Osborne last year. And there’s always speculation about a Balls comeback. Could we see Lord Balls the business secretary this time next year as Starmer seeks out political heavyweights with government experience?

Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

8. James Forsyth and Allegra Stratton 

Forsyth is never far from Rishi Sunak’s side. The former Spectator journalist, an old school friend of the PM, has become one of his most trusted aides since he joined No. 10 Downing Street at the end of 2022. Having prowled the corridors of Westminster as the Spectator’s political editor in a previous life, Forsyth also knows the parliamentary party extremely well. Stratton has equally strong links to the PM as his former spokesperson. After a tough time in Boris Johnson’s chaotic government, she’s returned to journalism working for Bloomberg, where she writes a daily newsletter. She also runs the low carbon advice firm Zeroism.

9. Morgan McSweeney and Imogen Walker

A new entry on the POLITICO love charts, this couple shoot straight into a high spot. As Keir Starmer’s campaign manager, McSweeney is arguably the Labour leader’s most important aide — tasked with the daunting mission of charting the opposition party’s course to victory.

If all goes well, his wife Imogen Walker, Scottish Labour parliamentary candidate for the new constituency of Hamilton and Clyde Valley, could be an MP under a newly-minted Labour government. Recent seat-by-seat YouGov polling suggests the constituency is on track to be a Labour gain.

10. Kate Ferguson and Richard Holden

Ferguson and Holden shoot up this year’s power ranking thanks to Holden’s promotion to the Cabinet, and his crucial role in the forthcoming general election as chair of the Conservative Party. A Sunak loyalist, we can expect to see plenty of him on the airwaves in coming months. As political editor of the widely read tabloid the Sun on Sunday, Ferguson will be a key brain shaping the media narrative in an election year. The famous “It’s The Sun Wot Won It” headline will be ringing in the ears of politicians in the run up to polling day.

11. Richard Tice and Isabel Oakeshott

The Reform Party is seriously spooking the Tories. And that means Richard Tice, its leader, gets a prominent spot. He doesn’t have the same political potency as his party’s founder Nigel Farage, but the GB News regular is becoming more and more interesting to SW1 as Reform’s polling improves. Oakeshott, a former Sunday Times political editor, has an uncanny ability to make the political weather too. Since last Valentine’s Day, her controversial lockdown files exclusive, in which she leaked a load of former Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s 100,000 WhatsApp messages to the Telegraph after helping Hancock write his memoirs, dominated the news agenda for weeks.

12. Wes Streeting and Joe Dancey

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting — a close ally of Starmer, and one of the party’s strongest media performers — could find his other half sitting with him on the green benches if all goes well for Labour at the next general election. His communications and public affairs adviser partner Joe Dancey is standing in the new Stockton West seat, which the recent constituency-by-constituency YouGov poll also suggests is poised to turn red. 

13. Eleanor Shawcross and Simon Wolfson

These two don’t often make headlines, but they remain big movers and shakers behind the scenes in Tory circles. Shawcross, an ex-David Cameron-era special adviser, is one of Rishi Sunak’s highest paid aides and has been tasked with delivering and implementing the PM’s policies, particularly public sector productivity and health. Her Conservative peer husband Simon Wolfson, boss of retail giant Next, has long been a big-hitter in Tory circles and was a major donor to Cameron. Shawcross also happens to be the daughter of William Shawcross, the writer and broadcaster who is currently commissioner for public appointments — a Westminster watchdog that often faces political heat.

14. David Frost and Harriet Mathews

Former Brexit negotiator Frost continues to be an important figure on the Tory right. His association with a strategically-timed You Gov poll predicting wipe-out for the Conservatives at the next election put him back in the headlines, and firmly in the No. 10 bad books. Currently a Tory peer, Frost has aspirations to join the action in the House of Commons, and confirmed last year he is looking for a parliamentary seat to fight. He has yet to find one. His wife, Harriet Mathews, is a big hitter in foreign affairs. She is now director general for Africa and the Americas at the Foreign Office.

15. Declan Lyons and Sophia True

Is it True love? These two are veterans of special adviser power-coupledom. Lyons, who served under Boris Johnson, remains an integral part of the Downing Street operation as a senior adviser in the No. 10 political office. His wife Sophia True, daughter of Tory peer Nicholas True, is now working for Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho as an adviser on policy and comms. 

16. Josh Grimstone and Finley Morris

Here’s another SpAd pairing. Grimstone has been a loyal aide to Cabinet heavyweight Michael Gove for six years — a politician never far from the action. Morris is newer to Whitehall. He joined Energy Sec Coutinho’s SpAd team as a policy adviser in November, but has been around Conservative politics for a while, and was previously a director of the Tory networking group Conservatives in Communications. 

17. Stuart Ingham and Jess Leigh 

Ingham is another Labour aide with a big role in election year. Starmer’s director of policy is pulling together the manifesto on which the opposition party will stand come election time. And his wife Jess Leigh is fighting the election “air war” for Keir Starmer as the Labour press office’s link to British broadcasters.

18. Ellie Reeves and John Cryer 

Labour’s Deputy National Campaign Co-ordinator Ellie Reeves has a busy election year ahead. Her husband, veteran MP John Cryer, occupies an important job chairing the Parliamentary Labour Party. Reeves is not just one half of a power couple — she’s also the sister of Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves.

19. Steven and Sarah Swinford

As Times political editor, Steven Swinford continues to set the agenda with front page scoop after scoop. He is married to Sarah, director of crime reduction at the Home Office.

20. Pippa Crerar and Tom Whitehead 

Senior lobby hack Crerar continues to break exclusives at a rate of knots. As political editor of the left-leaning Guardian, she’s likely to have an even more prominent media role if Labour wins power this year. A fearless reporter who politicians underestimate at their peril, Crerar broke the Partygate and Barnard Castle scandals during the Boris Johnson years. She is married to ex-Telegraph hack Tom Whitehead, who runs Russia and Ukraine comms at the Foreign Office.

21. Paul Brand and Joe Cuddeford

Now U.K. editor of ITV News, Brand is another key journalist who shed light on the Boris Johnson Partygate scandal. He’s also married to a senior civil servant; husband Cuddeford is a Cabinet Office alum who is now director of Smart Data Research U.K, which falls under the remit of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

22. Matt Dathan and Harriet Line

Both senior figures in the Westminster lobby, Dathan is the Times’ home affairs editor, and has consistently been ahead of the pack on the key twists and turns of Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation plans. As Deputy Political Editor of the Daily Mail, Line has a crucial role in shaping the right-leaning paper’s political coverage — always closely watched by 10 Downing Street.

23. Dehenna Davison and Tony Kay

Davison is no longer a minister, and will be leaving parliament at the election, but remains a good barometer of “red wall” Tory sentiment in Westminster. Her partner Kay is a Foreign Office bigwig — currently the department’s deputy director for the Iraq and Arabian Peninsula and set to become deputy ambassador to Brazil in the summer. 

24. Jenny Chapman and Nick Smith 

Labour peer Jenny Chapman is currently the party’s shadow Treasury and Cabinet Office spokesperson. It’s a prominent House of Lords role, and she’s another key ally of Leader Keir Starmer as his former political secretary. Chapman would undoubtedly be a big figure in any future Labour government. Her husband Smith has been a Labour MP since 2010 and is now shadow deputy leader of the House of Commons. 

25. Andrea Jenkyns and Jack Lopresti

After a period of calm, Tory rebellions are very much back in vogue. Boris Johnson mega-fan Jenkyns has led the charge in calling for Rishi Sunak to go. Her fellow MP husband Lopresti has also had a higher profile this year in his role chairing the all party parliamentary group for Ukraine at a time when support for the conflict-hit country is very much in the headlines. The eurosceptic pair jokingly call their son “Brexit Clifford” — he was born on the day Article 50 was triggered and the process of the U.K. leaving the EU began. 

Andrea Jenkyns | Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images

26. Will Tanner and Lizzie Loudon

A power couple of the Theresa May era now back in the thick of it, Loudon was press secretary to the then-prime minister while Tanner was deputy head of May’s policy unit. Tanner, who founded the centrist Onward think tank, returned to Downing Street to be Sunak’s deputy chief of staff, and Loudon is now director of communications and governance at the British Museum — an institution which has found itself at the center of a diplomatic storm over the Parthenon Marbles.

27. Cat Smith and David Linden

This love match across the political divide continues to endure. Labour MP Cat Smith and SNP MP David Linden told POLITICO’s Westminster Insider podcast last year how they found love in SW1 as they walked together hand in hand across Westminster Bridge. The electoral map is still very much in flux, and this would be a pairing to watch if voters delivered another hung parliament this year.

28. Henna Shah and Matt Pound 

Henna Shah is a key adviser to Pat McFadden, the shadow Cabinet minister helping shape Starmer’s election campaign and Cabinet Office policy. Her other half Matthew Pound, a senior advisor to the party’s General Secretary David Evans, is a key fixer involved in finding Labour’s parliamentary candidates.

29. Ben and Rachel Houchen

Ben Houchen, the directly elected Conservative mayor of the Tees Valley, has been handed a seat in the House of Lords since last Valentine’s Day, courtesy of Boris Johnson’s resignation honors list. He has since been embroiled in a bitter row with Labour MP Andy McDonald over the running of a regeneration project in his area. His wife Rachel, a teacher, works part time as a non-executive director at the watchdog Office for Students.

30. Johnny and Felicity Mercer

Felicity continues to be a staunch defender of her Cabinet-attending husband Johnny. Most recently she has attracted headlines following a very public row with Countdown-presenter-turned-anti-Tory-activist Carol Vorderman. (She is currently off social media after receiving a series of threats.) Johnny is keeping a slightly lower profile these days too, but with a seat at the Cabinet table as veterans minister he remains a power player in SW1.

31. Dave and Elspeth McCobb

It’s going to be a busy year for this Lib Dem love match. Dave McCobb is the party’s director of campaigns, described by colleagues as the mastermind of the party’s recent by-election wins. His wife Elspeth, a veteran of general election campaigns, is strategic projects manager in the party’s campaigns team and has an important role in getting the Lib Dems election ready. 

32. James Wild and Natalie Evans

A very Tory power couple. James Wild, Tory MP for North West Norfolk, was a key backer of Rishi Sunak, and is a parliamentary private secretary in the Department for Work and Pensions. He’s well connected in Westminster having started his career as a Tory special adviser. Evans, a former think tank wonk, is a senior Tory peer and formerly leader of the House of Lords. 

33. Isabel Hardman and John Woodcock

Hardman, assistant editor at the Spectator, is a familiar figure on Westminster screens and a highly sought-after political commentator. She is married to the former Labour MP John Woodcock. Woodcock now sits in the House of Lords as Baron Walney and is currently the government’s independent adviser on political violence and disruption.

34. Carl Dinnen and Sam Haq

Another civil service and journo power couple. Dinnen has the important job of delivering political news to the nation on ITV’s bulletins. Haq used to be a key player behind the scenes of those broadcasts as ITV news editor, but is now heading up comms at NHS England — never far from the headlines.

35. Felicity Slater and Stephen Bush

As an adviser to Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones, Slater will be involved in all-important discussions about where Labour will splash the cash if the party wins power this year. Bush, now associate editor and columnist at the Financial Times, writes an entertaining and informative newsletter, Inside Politics, which has become essential reading in SW1.

36. Liz Bates and Jake Richards

Liz Bates, ex of Channel 4 News, is now Sky News political correspondent. Her other half is Jake Richards, Labour’s candidate in Rother Valley. If the polls stay as they are, Richards could well be an MP in 2024.

37. Holly Valance and Nick Candy

The arrival of Valance, a former star of the Australian TV soap Neighbours, at the launch of Liz Truss’ new PopCon grouping this month was probably the most exciting turn of events to have hit SW1 this year. In an interview with GB News’ Christopher Hope, Valance backed ex-Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg to be PM and heaped praise on Conservative MP Lee Anderson. Valance is married to the mega-rich Conservative donor Nick Candy, who used to hang out with various right-leaning politicians but now says he’s backing Keir Starmer. Her celebrity and his cash could make these two a potent power couple to watch in the year ahead. 

Holly Valance and Nick Candy | Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

38. Roy and Alicia Kennedy

As opposition chief whip in the House of Lords, Roy Kennedy is the man charged with keeping any unruly Labour peers in check. He could have a tricky year ahead with Labour’s reform plans for the unelected upper chamber very much a live discussion. His wife Alicia, a former political adviser and former deputy general secretary of the Labour Party, is also a Labour peer, and a big hitter in her own right. 

39. Rachel Wolf and James Frayne

If you want to read the tea leaves of Tory politics and the wider electoral landscape these two are crucial contacts. Wolf, a former adviser to Michael Gove, co-wrote Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto. She is married to Frayne, the former director of communications at the Department for Education and a columnist with Tory grassroots website ConservativeHome. The pair’s lobbying agency Public First goes from strength to strength, and both are regular commentators on chunky policy issues.

40. Nickie and Alex Aiken

These two cling on for one more year — and they would have been much higher on the list if they hadn’t just announced they were leaving Westminster for a Gulf petrostate. Nickie is a deputy chair of the Conservative Party (Lee Anderson demonstrated the symbolic power of the role in recent weeks with a high profile resignation), and Alex will remain a powerful government comms pro for the next few weeks … before taking up a new role spinning for the United Arab Emirates in April.