Surprisingly for someone who in adulthood has increasingly left wing political views, my background was actually fairly centrist. I was raised in a family where one parent was affluent middle class and the other was poor working class. They were united in a shared appreciation for Margaret Thatcher. My parents genuinely seemed to fear a Labour government during the Thatcher years. One of my earliest political memories is being with my mother in a sweet shop while she told me that if Neil Kinnock ever got into power then my 10p Chewits sweets would almost certainly double to 20p. This is the kind of rhetoric that strikes fear into the heart of an 8 year old.
I appear to have been one of the only people in the country who didn’t go to one of the far left indoctrinated schools that the far right are so fond of telling us about. My school was actually quite right wing. We had quite a lot of debates about the borders of the country and even back then immigration was a hot topic. There was some precocious lefties in the class but in the main the vibe was to echo our parents and support their politically economic version of nationalism.
I was around the age of 11 when I first encountered some concepts that didn’t fit with the world view that if you worked hard you were guaranteed success a home and plenty of money. I came across most of the counter rhetoric through books, primarily novels. I think the earliest example was Susan Howatch’s Cashelmara which introduced me to the Irish famines. I didn’t understand as an 11 year old why people through no fault of their own could starve and not be given support by the state, rich people in their own lands or other countries. (If I’m honest, I’m now 42 and I still don’t understand this).
The same novel also introduced me to the uncomfortable concept that the English are not always the heroes of history. And the more historical works I read, the more horrified I was to see just how much damage the English had inflicted on countries around the globe. Not just internationally but at home as well. I went on to read authors like Charles Dickens which dealt with widespread poverty in the capital city. This opened my eyes to the fact that for some people, no matter how hard they work and no matter how hard they try, their lives never get any better.
A few years later I was asked to write a school project on a hero of mine. I chose Bob Geldof for his work raising funds to tackle the famine in Ethiopia. His biography really opened my eyes to the fact that the natural justice I had been taught as a child was a total myth. Success and suffering were far more arbitrary than I had been led to believe. Bad things really did happen to good people.
I first came across the concept of socialism through reading George Orwell. Specifically his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying where the protagonist Gordon Comstock struggles to stay relevant and retain his beliefs and identity through extreme poverty. From Comstock I learned the importance of standing by our principles regardless of personal circumstances.
I was fortunate enough to go to a Red Brick University when I met people with a diverse range of opinions many of whom were much more politically aware than I was. It is a misconception that Universities teach left wing politics, they don’t. What they do is bring together intelligent and enquiring minds who share ideas. And from that melting pot of hope and altruism Socialism emerges as a winner of hearts and minds for influential people of the next generation.
When I entered the working world I had crystallised in my own mind what socialism meant to me. I believed in the importance of state intervention to support those who needed help. I believed in removing barriers so PoC, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ etc had equal access to opportunites. I knew that I would prefer to pay more tax under a government who would use it to help the people than less tax to a government who only cared about supporting the wealthy elite.
Voting Labour for the first time was a proud moment for me. In fact with the exception of one election where I tactically voted Lib Dem I have always voted for the Labour party. They are not by any means (particularly under Tony Blair) the socialism I would vote for if I had the choice but they are closer than the £50 note burning racist elites on the other side of the Commons.
I have had the privilege of living through the good times when people like my parents genuinely did believe that we could be the masters of our own destiny. And I’ve had the experience of living through the bleak times, perhaps non bleaker than 2020 with a racist government in power on both sides of the Atlantic, death rates skyrocketing due to an international pandemic and unemployment about to hit the highest it has ever been.
Through both the good times and the bad I have remained committed to the idea of equity and a social responsibility both on the part of individuals and the state toward those who need more support than others. As times get tougher I can’t see my core belief in a fairer world ever wavering.