Meet the 'kitchen Cabinet' from Jill Biden, to Carrie Symonds, Cherie Blair, Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron. Is the role of world leaders' partners greatly underrated? asks Rosa Prince.
The exit of Lee Cain, Downing Street's director of communications, amid rumours of a civil war behind closed doors, has turned focus once again on the power of political partners.
Indeed, the role of the premier's wife — and it still usually is a woman — is probably the most underestimated in politics.
Since the era of Harold Wilson, commentators have used the term "kitchen cabinet" to describe a group of advisers so close, they gather together to thrash out policy in the leader's home; but what about the person who literally sits opposite the Prime Minister at the kitchen table?
Given the propensity for modern politicians to select in a mate an intellectual equal, the political spouse is more likely these days to be an accomplished career woman than a fawning mother figure bringing his slippers and red boxes when he arrives back at the flat above No 10 after a long day at the dispatch box.
Carrie Symonds, who has been at the heart of recent days' headlines, for example, is a former head of communications for the Conservative Party — of course she is going to want some input into the media strategy surrounding her personal life.
Across the ocean, too, it is now clear America is on track to gain a First Lady who is much more than an ornament. Jill Biden, wife of President-elect Joe Biden, is a distinguished educator and professor of English; she is said to have been instrumental in her husband's decision to stand for the presidency after two unsuccessful bids and influential in shaping his campaign.
When Biden spoke on election night to thank his team, Jill was at his side, not as window-dressing but as a valued mate in a partnership of equals; spotting he had forgotten the governor of Delaware, she leaned forward and whispered the name in his ear.
Michelle Obama, too, fits the mould of the consort-as-adviser; while formally she kept to the role decreed as that of the First Lady, focusing on the "softer" policy areas of child nutrition and fitness, her value to husband Barack as a sounding board was plain.
She may not have been in the Oval Office or Situation Room when the orders were given but, given her fierce intelligence, successful background as a lawyer and instinct for capturing the public mood, she was arguably more valuable to him than his most shrewd political appointee.
Before Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, Hillary Clinton was a First Lady with real political clout. On becoming President, Bill Clinton joked that voters had elected "two for the price of one" and he appointed her to oversee healthcare reform, a post that caused much resentment.
Back home, coming to office four years after Clinton, Tony Blair knew better than to give his wife, Cherie, a formal position in his Government but it was obvious the accomplished QC would have greater influence over his decision-making than predecessor Norma Major.
With her brilliant legal background, Cherie Blair had considered a political career and never saw herself as the junior partner.
MPs knew they could capture the leader's ear through his wife, while, confident of her own value, she chafed at calls from the Downing Street switchboard, saying, as she once disclosed: "The Prime Minister is coming back at 7pm: can you make sure the baby is ready so he can put the baby to bed, and his dinner's ready?"
It is just this combination of the domestic realm and political arena, captured in both the White House and Downing Street, that makes the influence of the political spouse so potent.
How could the views of a leader's life partner, the person they wake up beside each morning, share children with and who knows them better than anyone, not carry significant bearing when they head downstairs, or down the corridor, to the day job?
This influence can be highly beneficial, bringing a wider perspective and broader expertise to what is often the narrow focus of high politics.
Since Cherie Blair, it is fair to say, all of the British premier's consorts have brought political value to No 10. Public relations expert Sarah Brown made a habit of riding to husband Gordon's rescue at Labour conferences, beating back headlines portraying him as dour with speeches that painted a warm portrait of a caring, dedicated leader.
Working as she did in fashion and design, Samantha Cameron was perhaps less involved in day-to-day politics but of no less value to her husband, David. He spoke often of decisions needing to pass the "Sam test", of how they would play in the real world and, if he had concerns about a policy, he would pop into the flat they shared above 11 Downing St and run it by her.
Cameron's moves to allow gay marriage and the resettlement of Syrian refugees are thought to have been with the encouragement of his wife. Just as Symonds' influence on Johnson's administration has been profound in the 16 months he has been in office, in those areas she takes a special interest: marine conservation, animal welfare and victims' rights.
Philip May, too, was an important political spouse, seeing his role as supporting wife Theresa, rather than influencing her. May made a habit of bouncing ideas off him and they often ran through important speeches together. While he rarely came up with suggestions, she found the process of talking things over with someone who truly understood her invaluable.
In this, Philip and Theresa May were not dissimilar to Margaret and Denis Thatcher — their nightly chats over a whisky were dismissed at the time as him offering "the view from the golf course", as if the most forceful premier in modern times needed a guiding hand because she was a woman. But it is clear Thatcher, like May, valued the fresh perspective provided by her spouse precisely because he was outside of politics, with the added benefit that the two husbands, a banker and a businessman, had no agendas of their own.
Go further back than the Thatchers, and you can see the political spouse is not a modern invention that came with the advent of women in the workplace.
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were perhaps ahead of their time in seeing the role of First Lady as an expansive and overtly political one.
On entering the White House in 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt gave regular press conferences and wrote newspaper columns advocating for greater civil rights for women and African-Americans, as well as more support for refugees and the unemployed. She was more than capable of publicly disagreeing with her husband and she was so respected that, following Roosevelt's death, she was invited to a series of high-profile roles including chairing the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
Eleanor Roosevelt's wartime counterpart, Clementine Churchill, was also highly influential during her husband Winston's tenure, if in a low-profile manner, which meant her efforts went largely unremarked.
As Sonia Purnell's 2015 biography Clementine makes clear, she was invaluable as a behind-the-scenes adviser and confidante, dealing with his constituents, proofreading his speeches and "able to command civil servants, dress down generals, chivvy Cabinet ministers and face up to presidents on his behalf".
It has often been said that with Britain gripped by Covid-19, the Government currently faces its greatest challenge since World War II. Perhaps even Lee Cain can agree it is no bad thing that in Carrie Symonds, Boris Johnson has a partner who seems as capable of sustaining a wartime leader as Clementine Churchill.