‘It only happened once,’ interjected Fiona Bruce on Question Time, as they discussed Boris Johnson putting his father Stanley forward for a knighthood.
One of the panellists had observed that Stanley had put his wife in hospital with a broken nose. But Fiona was quick to establish that this violent assault on his wife ‘only happened once’…according to friends.
But Fiona, something of a patsy for the Right, was wrong in so many ways. Stanley frequently beat Charlotte. ‘He beat me many times over,’ she recalls when interviewed by Tom Bowers. He accused her of seeing too much of her friends, ‘and that’s when he first hit me.’
And here, of course, is another reason why Bruce’s intervention was ill-conceived. No domestic violence is a ‘one-off’ – but inter-related with other damaging behaviours. (It’s never, for instance, just ‘I had an alcoholic mother but everything else was fine.’)
Nothing in a family is a ‘one-off’ or unrelated to other family transactions.
In Stanley’s case, his children wouldn’t merely have witnessed physical violence from someone who was meant to help them feel safe. They’d have felt the intimidation, misogyny and control that guided it.
He wanted control over who Charlotte saw and when she saw them; while he himself would bow to no control. He’d disappear for long periods, leaving her marooned in the country with the children – but without a car.
She was granted no control over what he did or who he saw; and his sexual infidelity is well documented.
‘Stanley wanted to be loved and wanted sex and he wanted power,’ said Charlotte. ‘When I contradicted him, it threatened his power.’
But somehow, such violence in the home remains permitted. That is the headline here. This is all OK. Stanley has seen no reason for public regret or shame. It’s very much business as usual – and the possibility of an honour, the icing on the cake.
He has so far been unable to take responsibility for his behaviour; a disability, we now know, keenly embraced by his son. He learned more from his father than from Eton.
And really, nothing could be bleaker for those suffering domestic abuse, whether physical, sexual or emotional. If an honour is for the honourable, the messaging could hardly be worse.
As has been noted, had Stanley broken the nose of a stranger in the street; or repeatedly assaulted women on the tube, even Boris Johnson might have hesitated about granting an honour. He probably would have served time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
But it wasn’t a stranger in the street or someone on the tube. It was closer to home, it was his wife and children, and these people don’t count. Behind closed doors, anything goes.
Arise, Sir Stanley Johnson?
Who but a snowflake could have a problem with that?
Footnote: Charlotte Johnson Wahl was a painter. She married Stanley Johnson in 1963 and divorced him in 1979, finding happiness in her second marriage in the States. She died in 2021.