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The Dark Heart of Green Toryism

When our ruling class preaches virtue, it usually practices vice. The fascistic, eugenicist roots of the Conservative Party's leading environmentalists are no exception.

‘When I make love, I gurgle like a gorilla.’ John Aspinall with Belinda Musker and a baby tiger, 1967. (Daily Express / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

In 1962, John Aspinall founded the Clermont Club, a casino in Mayfair, West London. Beneath the elegant Georgian building that catered to the rich, titled, and famous was Annabel’s, a basement club founded by Mark Birley. Annabel’s was named in honour of his then-wife, who in 1964 began a decade-long affair with James Goldsmith (who along with his brother Teddy was a vital part of their friendship group). Annabel finally left Birley in the 1970s to marry James, though all still remained close to each other in what was known as the ‘Clermont Set’.

With a strange combination of friendships, affairs, upmarket gambling, and aristocratic nightclubbing, this was a posher, less recognisable end of the Swinging Sixties. The Beatles were turned away from the door of Annabel’s because they didn’t match the dress code, but Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger mixed with the lively crowd. Though Birley said his club ‘must smell of exclusivity and sex’, in reality his clientele often veered towards something more sinister; Lord Lucan, the ‘vanished’ murderer, was a Clermont Club regular and trusted member of Aspinall’s friendship circle.

Born to Rule

But their legacy wasn’t just in historical oddities like Lucan. James Goldsmith’s children Zac and Ben serve as government minister and Environment Board member, respectively. Robin, Mark Birley’s son, is a major Tory Party donor. The Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, works as communications chief at the Aspinall Foundation, a job she was given by John Aspinall’s son, Damian—also a Tory donor.

You never go too far into Tory history without bumping into them. John Aspinall was raised by his stepfather, George Francis Osborne, the grandfather of George Osborne, and employed his half-brother, James Osborne, George Osborne’s uncle, for many years. Annabel’s has been a key playground for the rich and their hangers-on for decades: the boss of privatisation giant Serco, Rupert Soames, is both the brother of a former Tory MP and a former Annabel’s DJ.

Aspinall’s money came from gambling clubs. But later in life, he spent it on tigers and gorillas, establishing zoos (one still survives as Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, Hythe). Aspinall loved animals, writing Best of Friends, a popular 1976 coffee table book full of touching images of close human interactions with apes and big cats. It ends, however, with a grim manifesto, declaring that ‘homo sapiens is in uncontrolled, cancerous growth, and medical research has merely exacerbated this condition’. Praising his primates, Aspinall attacked ‘the billions blown on Medicare’, a US public healthcare system, which is ‘ill-spent and worse than wasted’ because of its skill in letting unworthy people live.

As a eugenicist, Aspinall believed people were the product of their genes—and that those of inferior genetic stock should be phased out. His book wasn’t just about cuddling apes; it was about how the human species should not have ‘allowed deviants and aberrants to breed without restraint’. His views had an undoubtedly strong class edge: posh eugenicists believe they have good genes, of course, and poor people have bad ones. Aspinall argued that we should live like ape colonies with a permanent aristocracy because ‘the scions of high-ranking parents are probably the beneficiaries of genetic as well as cultural superiorities’, concluding handily that ‘aristocracy, in its literal sense of “rule by the best”, could well be the best of all rules’.

Aspinall was disgusted by what he called ‘the urban biomass’, arguing that ‘where human society is most urbanised there is the greatest social sickness. The irony here is that in a democracy where urban man outnumbers non-urban man, we are ruled by those least fitted to rule—the socially sickest.’ Brazenly, he also described his ‘primate’ and ‘tribal’ fantasies in his personal relations, seeing himself as a dominant male and claiming that ‘when I make love, I gurgle like a gorilla’.

Fascist Sympathies

These were views that Aspinall stuck to throughout his life too; he also expressed them in practical political terms, writing to a friend in 1979 that ‘[T]he UK is now in terminal decline and only a right-wing counter-revolution, Franco-esque in spirit and determination, can save us.’

His most direct political intervention came in the dying days of apartheid, when the South African government tried to break the power of the African National Congress (ANC) by secretly supporting the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, who it was hoped would split the black majority into warring ‘tribes’. Inkatha militias were trained and armed by apartheid armed forces and became a key part of their fight against the ANC, the trade union movement, and human rights figures, wreaking havoc in ANC-supporting areas.

Aspinall assisted this violent but futile attempt to break the liberation struggle. He and his associates gave up to £1 million to Inkatha in their fight against the ANC. In turn, they allowed Aspinall to indulge in colonial fantasies, declaring himself a ‘White Zulu’ at Inkatha meetings and telling Inkatha militants to ‘sharpen your spears’ in their fight against the ANC. Inkatha mercenaries did kill thousands of South Africans with spears, petrol bombs, and AK-47s while Aspinall funded their party, but South Africa’s first free election in 1994 saw them receiving a paltry ten percent of the vote compared to the ANC’s sixty-two percent.

Meanwhile, Aspinall’s friend James Goldsmith became exceedingly rich as an asset stripper, taking over firms and selling off the most valuable bits. But he too was drawn to politics, founding the short-lived Referendum Party, which split from the Tories in 1994 (with Priti Patel as its press officer). Goldsmith’s worldview reflected Aspinall’s reactionary ideas in many ways, with Aspinall actually standing as a political candidate for the Referendum Party.

In his book The Trap (1993), a book-length personal manifesto with Aspinall-esque themes about the evils of the ‘urban biomass’, Goldsmith writes of the ‘multi-ethnic, multi-tongued population’ formed by ‘mass migration’ and ‘the extension of welfare’ leading to the ‘social breakdown of the cities’.

But it was Teddy Goldsmith who took the ‘greenest’ turn, founding The Ecologist magazine and living in a big house with a non-flushing composting toilet. This was not benevolent, 1970s middle-class environmentalism; in 1997, editorial staff at the magazine resigned in protest at Teddy attempting to reach out to the French far-right to argue that green politics was about a ‘natural social order’ with fixed ‘tribal’ identities. The following year, his nephew Zac became the magazine’s editor. Perceived to be steering the magazine away from Teddy’s rightward impulses, he became useful to David Cameron, who made Zac a ‘green advisor’ as part of environmentally conscious rebranding.

Bizarre Reactionaries

After laundering the reputation of Cameron’s Conservatives, Zac Goldsmith soon reverted to type; his unsuccessful 2016 campaign against Sadiq Khan was accused of dog-whistle racism, packed full of nasty, divisive themes. Attempts were made to tar Khan as an Islamic extremist, and leaflets aimed at British Indians claimed Labour would try and tax their family jewellery. The campaign hurt Zac’s reputation, but certainly not his career; he was made a Lord in 2020 and a minister in the same year.

So too does Zac’s brother, Ben, have his place among the Tory higher order. Running a supposedly ‘green’ investment firm (which invests in unmistakably un-‘environmental’ companies such as Airbus), Ben Goldsmith is a Tory donor and chairs the Conservative Environmental Network, on whose committee sits Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley. In 2018, Michael Gove gave Ben a government position, making him a director of the Department for the Environment.

On Twitter, Ben bemoans mass immigration, which he believes threatens the environment because ‘Britain concretes over an area the size of London each decade, principally to absorb an unsustainable level of immigration’, and complains that calls for ‘cheap new homes’ would destroy ‘our remaining green places, just to satisfy a mad policy of mass immigration that only big business and the hard left want’.

Mark Birley’s son Robin is still in the entertainment game, running ‘members only clubs’ (including Annabel’s). Disfigured for life after being attacked by one of Aspinall’s tigers at the age of twelve, Robin later wrote that Aspinall came to his bed, stripped naked and ‘facing away from me and, bending over, he then proceeded to do a “ball swing”, his balls being unusually attenuated’. ‘After that,’ Robin claimed, ‘it was hard to feel angry with him.’

In the time since, he has taken up many of Aspinall’s ‘environmental’ concerns, as well as his political ones. Like Aspinall, Robin Birley was drawn to fascists. He was heavily involved in the campaign to free Augusto Pinochet, who was detained in Britain in 1998 on charges related to his bloody 1973 coup. Working with Spectator columnist Taki, Birley raised funds for Pinochet’s luxury flat in Britain, and worked on the ultimately successful campaign to return him to Chile. More recently, Birley donated £20,000 to Boris Johnson’s 2019 leadership campaign.

Links to Power

Aspinall is very directly connected to 10 Downing Street in another way too. Since January 2021, Boris Johnson’s wife Carrie has been head of communications at the Aspinall Foundation, the animal conservation charity which does conservation work in conjunction with Aspinall Animal Parks. Ben Goldsmith and Robin Birley are trustees of the foundation, and it is run by Damian, Aspinall’s son.

The Charity is currently under investigation because it paid Damian Aspinall’s wife over £150,000 for ‘interior design’ work in 2020—though an equally serious question is how much the charity embodies the eugenicist views of its founder. Damian seems to have followed in his father’s footsteps to at least some degree, telling the Evening Standard in 2011 that ‘I like some humans as much as I like animals but most animals are far superior to most humans.’

And it doesn’t stop there. In the hurried Afghan evacuation in August 2021, many were left behind, but the British Army helped evacuate street dogs run by the former Royal Marine Pen Farthing. Though the government denies Carrie Johnson’s involvement, numerous articles at the time argued to the contrary, including one by animal welfare campaigner Dominic Dyer. Saving dogs—but denying people the chance to migrate to safety—certainly feels like a decision John Aspinall would have approved of. Tribune has contacted the Aspinall Foundation for comment but not received a response.

The story of Aspinall’s eugenicism and the influence of his social and familial milieu exposes the reality that ‘green’ or ‘environmentalist’ Toryism is not a socially progressive phenomenon. Quite the opposite: this environmentalism is about treating humans like animals, with the rich seeing themselves as the apex predators.

It is often said that green politics without class analysis is lacking. But, in fact, it can often be far worse. There is a long history of elite environmentalism using green cover to attack the working class and the world’s poor, casting them as corrupters of our green and pleasant lands. This did not begin or end with the famed theories of Malthusianism.

In Britain’s case, it is worth remembering that even as our ruling class preaches virtue, it usually practices vice. And in the case of its aristocratic, quasi-fascist core, those practices will tend to be more bizarre than even our most fevered imaginations.