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Stanley Johnson with his wife, Jenny (Photo by Roy Riley) Stanley Johnson with his wife, Jenny (Photo by Roy Riley)
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A contest between my two boys? That sounds like tremendous fun! It would be Bo-Jo v Jo-Jo, says Stanley Johnson

| Mail on Sunday

 

A Johnson in No?10! I did a sudden double-take when I saw the front-page headlines. Jo had telephoned me a couple of days earlier to say that some kind of move was under discussion, but I certainly hadn't been expecting front-page news.

The BBC had the story too. My son's appointment to head the Downing Street Policy Unit didn't lead the news, but it was not far off.

My mobile phone didn't ring much that morning but that was only because I had spilt a glass of wine over it the night before.

At 11am when I had finally got a substitute from the helpful O2 shop in Camden Town (thank you Nigel Izuchi from Nigeria!), I had a stack of missed calls and voice mails. My first reaction was a purely personal one. I split up with my first wife, Charlotte Jo's mother at the end of 1978 when he was seven. I have never sought to minimise the impact divorce has on a young family and I do not do so now. It would be absurd to pretend that young children do not feel a cataclysmic shock when their parents go their separate ways.

As a father, one has obviously a sense of pride when a child shines in his or her chosen career. In the case of my children, I say to myself: 'I jolly well did let them down. But they seem to have come through anyway, thank God.'

I particularly feel that in the case of Jo, the youngest of my first four children.

Charlotte, a brilliant painter, had not been particularly well during Jo's early years. I had perhaps done more 'parenting' in Jo's case, than I had in the case of his older siblings Boris, Rachel and Leo.

I can certainly remember quite often reading Jo to sleep in those early years in Brussels when I was working for the European Commission. (And I discovered the Fisher-Price tape-player. You could switch it on and leave it by the bed, while you answered the phone or poured yourself a drink!)

When did Jo first begin to surprise me? When did I say to myself: 'Wow, this kid has really got something'?

I can remember the moment very clearly. It was in July 1994 when he had just finished his last year at Oxford. I was living in Oxford at the time but Jo had already left, so he asked me if I would go to look at the exam results which would be posted on a certain day.

I duly looked at the list of third class degrees first. Jo's name didn't appear. 'That's a relief,' I said to myself, 'at least he's got a second.'

I looked at the seconds. No Jo. 'Oh dear!' I said to myself, 'has he got a fourth?'

When finally I discovered Jo's name among the firsts, I have to admit I did an Osborne. Not a total Osborne. But a definite puckering-up.

I never really knew Jo was seriously interested in politics until one night I got a text message saying he had been selected as the Conservative candidate for Orpington by one vote on the sixth ballot. And when, on Election night on May 6, 2010, the brilliant electors of Orpington tripled the Conservative majority to over 17,000, and Jo stepped forward on to the rostrum to thank them, I have to admit that I had another of those Osborne moments.

I felt much the same this week when I saw those headlines.

It may be a bit odd for a father to take to the pages of a Sunday newspaper to congratulate his son on a spectacular achievement but what the hell! I raise my glass. Jo may have started late in the political stakes, but he has certainly come on fast.

Over the last few days, some more fanciful commentators have been speculating about a possible Bo-jo v Jo-jo contest. Is that going to happen in some distant future? Frankly, I haven't the faintest idea. But if it did, I am sure that from a spectator point of view at least it would be tremendous fun. We Johnsons, as I keep on reading nowadays, are 'famously competitive'.

In my view, Jo, as an MP head of the policy unit with ministerial rank, has a chance to contribute to the major regeneration of Conservative fortunes which could, I believe, now be in prospect. Yes, we will lose seats in next week's local elections but that was always on the cards, given how well we did last time.

More to the point is the fact the Conservatives, at this point in the electoral cycle, could be much further behind than they are. But what will it take to bring the party together into a coherent, unstoppable force between now and May 2015?

The key thing will be actually to listen to the voice of the traditional Conservative voters. I spent almost 20 years on European issues. It's time to lance the boil one way or another. Bill Cash's call for a referendum now that is, before the next Election makes a lot of sense.

At the very least there is surely a strong case for getting the legislation providing for a referendum through Parliament before the next Election.

Jo may be a 'European'. He grew up in Brussels, went to school there, and holds degrees from two European universities, as well as Oxford. But that doesn't mean he's a fanatic European.

I've canvassed with him in Orpington. I've spoken at the Orpington Ladies Lunch Club! It's quite clear to me that traditional Conservative loyalists in Orpington and around the country are troubled, to put it mildly, at the current state of the relationships between Britain and Europe.

Jo is astute enough to see that finally making good on David Cameron's 'cast-iron guarantee' of a referendum is politically wise as well as intellectually coherent.

There are other things the new policy team might want to take another long, hard look at:

Have we really got immigration under control? How many Conservative voters does planning Minister Nick Boles lose each day in his mad rush to concrete over the green fields? Why do we need all those new houses, if not because the previous government simply let immigration run riot?

Why, for that matter, do we need the HS2? Aren't there other, far better things to spend 30?billion on ... and counting?

And, while I'm about it, what about the mad EU biofuel directive which is leading to the destruction of rain-forests all over the world? What about gay marriage?

This last is a tricky one, I know. I suspect Jo's views on gay marriage are not the same as mine on this issue.

And Jo's wife, Amelia Gentleman, is an award-winning reporter for The Guardian, so I doubt if she shares my opinion either. But Jo has a cool head and a logical mind. He is trained to see beyond the breakfast table.

In Paris, there were fights in the streets over gay marriage last week. Do we want fights in London too? Is gay marriage really a national priority? If it is not a national priority, why is it a Conservative priority?

Two weeks ago I went to Lady Thatcher's funeral in St Paul's. From my point of view, the most moving moment of the day was when her granddaughter, Amanda, gave a flawless reading from St Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Her poise, her presence, her sense of occasion were all stunning. Much has been made of the Conservatives' need to 'reconnect' with their roots. That, as far as I can understand, is one of the things Jo will have to promote in his new role.

Amanda Thatcher, from Dallas, Texas, may only be 19 years old. But, boy, has she got what it takes! Put her on the A-List (as in A for Amanda) and whisk her through to a safe seat! They'll be cheering in the stands.

Does this all sound pretty serious? Does it sound too serious? In politics, as in real life, a good sense of humour can go a long way. So is Jo going to be funny enough?

If you have any doubts, just click on to YouTube and watch Jo's maiden speech in the House of Commons on June 27, 2010, a few weeks after the General Election and the formation of the Coalition Government.

Jo begins by saying: 'Anyone hoping that I will enliven proceedings in the manner of one of my elder brothers is likely to be sadly disappointed.'

He goes on to read out a quote from Private Eye. 'He could not be more different to Boris. It is as though the humour gene by-passed Jo altogether and he inherited only the ambition gene!'

I was in the chamber that day and I heard the loud laughs that greeted that remark.

But Jo turned the joke into a serious point, saying: 'It is absolutely fair comment, but I don't really apologise for the humourectomy, nor indeed for any hint of ambition that you might detect.

'For these are serious times and politicians need to be ambitious when the country is in such a mess.

'History will not forgive us if we flannel around in this house for the next five years and fail to pick the economy up off the floor where it is at the present.'

Watch this space!