Going to secondary school in leafy affluent High Barnet, meant making friends from a different social strata to the one I’d been born into. My dad worked as a meter reader and my mum a cleaner, and I lived in a two bedroomed council house. My friends parents worked as estate agents, solicitors, GPs, and bankers. Some of their hallways were as big as my lounge. Did I feel embarrassed by my humble origins? On the contrary – my Labour supporting republican mum had instilled in me a sense of pride in my working class heritage.
My mum turned to Labour after reading The Ragged trousered Philanthropist as a teenager. My dad, an Irish immigrant who’d left Limerick aged 8, didn’t share my mum’s politics. He was a liberal and a staunch royalist. This difference of opinion often led to heated rows, particular when elections came round; rows that most of our neighbours probably guessed at whenever a Labour poster would appear in our lounge window, and a Liberal one in my parents bedroom. To make my early political education even more confusing, and interesting, my mum’s mum, who I adored, was a Sun reading Tory. We had some corking rows during the miners strike. And then there were my wonderful school friends. Whilst most of them didn’t share my interest in politics, those who did mostly claimed to support the Tories, like their parents.
Out of this mishmash of influences, I drew a valuable life lesson. You cannot identify someone as a good or bad person by their politics. My Tory nan was a loving decent person, as were my Tory friends. My liberal dad was just as loving and caring a parent as my socialist mum. It also taught me a persons politics can change. Whilst I felt a natural affinity with my mums politics, I wasn’t as staunch a republican as her. Maybe I felt bad for rejecting my dads politics completely and decided to identify with at least one aspect of his beliefs. Shortly after my dads premature death at the age of 59, I embraced republicanism wholeheartedly, something that probably wasn’t a coincidence.
My mums road to Damascus moment, triggered by one particularly profound and beautiful book, compounded this lesson. Was my mum a bad person the day before she read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and a good one after? Of course not. She was the same person, just a more aware one. So where are you going with all this? I hear you ask. The answer to that question has a name, and that name is Michelle Dorrell, the single mum so badly betrayed by a Tory party she had only recently voted for.
Michelle’s out pouring of raw anger on BBC Question Time, has been met with mixed reactions on the left. On the positive end of the scale, Michelle has been recognised as someone who deserves our sympathy, regardless of who she voted for. On the negative end, Michelle has been told she deserves everything she gets because she had voted for the very same government now doing herself and her family harm. Whilst I’m not judging anyone for their responses, I am hoping this blog post gives those who have responded with disdain for Michelle pause for thought.
No matter the trigger that opens someone’s eyes to the callousness of the Tory government, and no matter how late in life it comes, can we not celebrate that awakening rather than chastise them for not being born with that innate knowledge? Can we not appreciate that everyone has grown up with different political influences, and been exposed to a media that is heavily biased toward the Tories, limiting most people’s opportunities to see politics in a balanced way? Can we not welcome them into the labour family with warmth and good grace, reassuring them that they are now one of us, whatever their past allegiances? The Tories certainly don’t turn their face against new voters, whoever they once voted for. Welcome home they say. Can we on the left be just as welcoming?
I certainly hope so.