I knew Boris’s maternal Granny in the nineties. She lived in the same block of flats as my mother in Oxford. They were both widows but Beechy (Beatrice )Lady Fawcett’s husband was Sir James Fawcett (who came from a family of distinguished liberals including the suffragette Millicent Fawcett) and a Fellow of All Souls and President of the European Commission on Human Rights. Although weighed down with arthritis Beechy took widowhood in her stride – she had been a ballet dancer – while my mother’s exacerbated her existing emotional problems. Beechy was a strong Catholic of the best sort, no Lady Bountiful but her Christianity was practical showing my mother kindnesses in many ways while trying to cheer her up. She was sharp too, for although my father died before she met my mother, she showed considerable insight about my parents’ marriage. When my mother had to go into a care home she was one of the few, apart from my family, who visited her, often making sure we went together as I found the visits very difficult.
It was about this time, just after Mrs Thatcher’s Bruges declaration in ’88, that Boris became the Daily Telegraph correspondent in Brussels whose often hilarious attacks on the EU informed part of the early Eurosceptic movement. I remember going to many meetings in London where the fighting about the EU was starting to get unpleasant, and over which the Conservative party has been fighting a civil war ever since.
Boris’ Granny did not approve of any criticism of Brussels; she liked the fact that Al, or Alexander as they called him in the family, was doing well – there were a lot of Alexanders on the London scene then so Boris was wise to plump for his second name – but she, like other chatterers, couldn’t understand why anyone would want to criticise the Euro project. My mother had many amicable discussions with Beechy about her socialist beliefs especially those on education and healthcare; Beechy thought that private healthcare was wrong while my mother thought it was fine if you could afford it and teased Beechy for sending her son to Eton.
When Boris returned to Islington where I lived, I became a nodding acquaintance through grassroots politics and my friendship with Beechy. I was impressed that he sent his children to the local primary school; all aspiring politicians should do this even for a short time as well as using the health service and public transport. I used to pass the time of day with him at the bus stop to Canary Wharf . He was always cheerful even on a rotten day.
Watching Boris’s elevation to Downing Street, I was reminded about Beechy and the debt of gratitude I owe her. I’m sure she would have been pleased even if she didn’t agree with him for there was not an ounce of animosity in her. Here in Oxford of course, there are plenty of anti – Boris arrows whizzing around: A liar, completely untrustworthy, base immorality,’ he’ll give up after two months with boredom.’ It seems no use reminding people that Lloyd George managed to win a war while Palmerston besides being one of our most successful Foreign secretaries, fathered several illegitimate children. I believe genes matter: so I know Boris’s optimism unlike so many politicians today, always full of gloom and doom, will cheer us up in these difficult times; and I’m sure he will want to do the right thing in both senses of the word.
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I’m certain that Beechy was not a Catholic at all.
Millicent Fawcett was not a ‘suffragette’ as erroneously stated in this article, she was a leading suffragist – a very important distinction. Here is a quotation from her book ‘Women’s Suffrage: A Short History of a Great Movement’ in which she disavows the violence and despotism of Emmeline Pankhurst’s suffragette movement:
‘I could not support a revolutionary movement, especially as it was ruled autocratically, at first, by a small group of four persons, and latterly by one person only. In 1908, this despotism decreed that the policy of suffering violence, but using none, was to be abandoned. After that, I had no doubt whatever that what was right for me and the NUWSS [National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies] was to keep strictly to our principle of supporting our movement only by argument, based on common sense and experience and not by personal violence or lawbreaking of any kind.’
I knew Boris when we were undergraduates in Oxford, and I never saw nor heard anything bad about him. People used to shout “Boris!” at him from across the street, affectionately, the same way they shouted “Fascist!” at me, a little less affectionately. Looking back, I think his political opinions were probably similar to mine, but he exuded a fragrance of Social Democracy, while nobody could have mistaken me for anything other than a Monday Clubber.
He was certainly neither stupid nor impractical, though he loved to pretend to be both. Whenever I met him, I felt slightly starstruck, the way I suspect that University acquaintances of William Gladstone did.
He’s made an excellent start, giving Rees-Mogg and Patel the Cabinet seats they were born to sit on, and he’s ensured that the odious Hancock, Javid, Morgan and Rudd can’t torpedo Brexit from their departments.
For the first time since the Referendum result was announced, I’m feeling optimistic about British politics.
Thank you Merrie Cave. An interesting background story to Boris Johnson. Let us give him the benefit of our support while he pursues the path he has indicated is his aim, and not start calling him a liar while he is not one.
To be fair, he is a liar.
‘A liar, completely untouched rust worthy and base immorality too? The perfect man to deal with the EU.
Forgive the typos. I am drunk with expectation.