Stanley Johnson goes green

Written by Liz Bates on 18 February 2015 in Interview
Interview
Boris' father is baffled by the stance on climate change taken by Tories such as Nigel Lawson.

Even the patriarch of one of the country’s most ambitious and successful families must fulfil such mundane fatherly duties as dog-sitting. Stanley Johnson has recently returned from the Arctic and is planning a trip to Ascension Island, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. But in the meantime he is looking after his daughter’s dog, Coco, in Camden, North London.

The daughter in question is Rachel Johnson, journalist and former editor of The Lady, and only the second most famous of his illustrious offspring, with Boris firmly hogging the spotlight at present.   

Very much the older version of his high-profile son in both mannerisms and hairstyle, Johnson senior, a former MEP, throws open the shutters of his imposing Regents Park home revealing piles of dusty books, many authored by him.

He writes a book a year, he says, and his most recent work – the second half of an autobiography - took around 12 days to draft.

Most of Stanley, I Resume, which follows on from Stanley, I Presume, was penned whilst on a Mediterranean cruise delivering lectures on ancient Greece, and was done almost entirely from memory.

Although this technique was largely successful it left his wife somewhat disconcerted when she discovered that he had got the date of their wedding incorrect.

“I only got it a year wrong. But I have picked it up now, I have corrected it in the paperback,” he laughs.

Johnson’s prose is driven by story telling rather than introspection and his latest offering is much more Wodehouse than Wordsworth. Fans of emotional insight will be disappointed, but thankfully an unconventional life has inspired a collection of engaging and amusing anecdotes.

“I am not good on feelings, and my wife is always complaining. I am glad you think it was funny. The first one is quite funny too,” he says.

He is at his most earnest when discussing environmental issues and animal welfare, having dedicated much of his career to campaigning on these subjects. Although a lifelong Tory he has marched the streets with some of the country’s most left-wing campaigners and was even honoured by Greenpeace in 1984 for Outstanding Services to the Environment.

Indeed some of his views are so far away from his party’s he might be more at home with the Greens; a suggestion he greets with a derisory snort.

“No, there is no point in being in the Green Party because you have to be able to influence the main political levers.”

His assessment of fellow Conservatives who have expressed scepticism about climate change is equally dismissive.

“That is because they don’t think… There is just no case for being sceptical about climate change…

“I don’t quite know why Nigel Lawson, who is an extremely intelligent man, takes the other side of it.”

Johnson is similarly baffled by the UK’s stance on halal meat, which he deems “completely ludicrous” and has recently raised with the Environment Secretary.

Under EU rules member states are compelled to employ stunning before slaughter, however a majority of countries have invoked an exemption based on religious grounds, including Britain.

The approach infuriates the animal rights activist, who suggests that religious groups “have got to take it on the chin.”

“The time has come for Britain to say, we are not going to allow this religious exemption…

“Now does that mean that all the Jews will have to go back to Israel? Or all the Muslims will have to go back to wherever they come from? The world has moved on and I don’t think it is tolerable.”

Animal rights and environmental issues tend to take precedence for him in many areas; a philosophy which is revealed through an unlikely economic policy suggestion.

“What you can’t have is this constant push for economic growth. It is just impossible to reconcile the steady push for economic growth with the protection of the environment.

“It just can’t be done and if you look at wildlife over the last 40 years - WWF produced a very good report two months ago pointing out that we have lost something like 50% of the world’s wildlife over the last 40 years…

“The basic problem is that the human race is proliferating so fast, you know, we are spreading over the world like a stain and using up the resources.”

Although projections for the world’s population as a whole foresee significant increases, many western nations have encountered falling birth-rates and shifting demographics which have caused them at times to rely on immigrants to bolster the workforce. For Johnson this is a central concern.

Advocating a population policy with a hint of Malthusian reasoning, he outlines how the UK Government should be approaching the issue.

“I would try to aim for a stable population in Britain. You do it in lots of different ways. You certainly don’t give a whole lot of family planning, family allowances for third and fourth and fifth children. I thought what Iain Duncan Smith said the other day about maybe limiting family allowances to two people sounds like a pretty good idea.

“I think we have a real problem in this country which is to do with, as I said a moment ago, with the differential fertility of the immigrant population.”

For a man who has six children, this is a surprising attitude. He has also chosen to live in in Europe’s most populated capital city.

London should not be so focussed, he says, on the “need for housing, need for transport, need for schools.

“Can’t they see that one of the problems is that they haven’t had a plan to hold back on London’s growth?”

The seemingly relentless swelling of London is not just an ideological concern, however, as Johnson will be one of the people most affected if HS2 goes ahead in line with current plans.

“If you look at that hedge outside my window that is going to be where the train is going to run. It is going to be within five metres of my front door,” he says.     

The property in question, designed in the 19th century by John Nash under instruction from the Prince Regent, is worth around £4m and represents a large proportion of its owners assets, which he now fears will “be reduced to zero.”

The Labour peer Andrew Adonis conceived of the high-speed rail link, which will initially shorten train times between London and Birmingham and eventually move up the country providing quicker connections between northern cities and the capital.

Recalling a conversation he had with Lord Adonis, Johnson alleges that even the project’s architect regrets its planned incursion into central London. 

Johnson suggests that privately Adonis admitted “it would have been much better if it stopped at Old Oak Common, or at least for the time being stopped at Old Oak Common while they try to think what to do about Euston.”

His contempt for both the originator and the plans is delivered with familiar scathing wit, as the Labour peer is accused of pushing a scheme that he had “thought up in the bath basically. He just wanted a shiny new toy to glisten in the Labour party’s 2010 election manifesto…”

“I think I even suggested he might be stripped of his title,” Johnson grins.   

But despite the imminent threat to his shrubbery, the former politician will surely find solace in travel and his continuing commitment to campaigning. 

Currently he is concerned about the plight of African elephants, has recently marched against the ivory trade and will be making the case for protecting marine life on Ascension Island.

Any ambitions which he harboured to stand for UK Parliament appear to have dwindled for now, but he remains loyally confident of a Conservative victory in the forthcoming general election.

Although he does admit to some reservations about his party’s image, particularly on the authenticity of their environmental credentials.

“I think a weak card on the Conservative side is we still do come across a bit as being the party for the rich man…

“I don’t think it would hurt the Tories to be a bit greener in their approach, although you could say when David Cameron went off and hugged a husky that was a bit opportunistic.”

This summary encapsulates an apparent friction between Stanley Johnson’s political persuasions and his personal passions.

Boris’ father may appear to have blue blood, but his heart is green.  

Tags: Boris Johnson, Stanley Johnson

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