I grew up around clandestine Conservatives behind Labour lines in the North. The North-East of Wales to be precise, but the border was in sight and our TV came from Manchester. My family were old-fashioned Tories; God, Queen, Country and leave business alone (except when it’s foreign and shouldn’t be allowed). I was forbidden coca-cola because there was nothing wrong with dandelion and burdock. My family were mostly that kind of provincial c(C)onservative.
Apart, that is, from an eccentric great aunt who had been Labour all her life. In 1946 she had voted for her brothers’ transport company to be expropriated. Of course she used the euphemism “nationalised” but she knew – and relished – what it meant. She used to say such endearing things to studious young Tom as “children educated by the state should never be allowed to leave the country – you owe us and should stay to pay your debt.” She was against private education too, so rather insisted on this imprisoning debt. I think the imprisonment was part of the appeal to her controlling nature. Unlike the rest of our family of tradesmen, shopkeepers and truck drivers, she worked as a civil servant and looked down on us money grubbers scornfully even as she grubbed our money.
She was a terrible advocate for her party; far too openly authoritarian and far too liable to speak of the masses as cattle. She was a snob too. Even as a Socialist young man, I thought her ideology sprang more from contempt for the masses, than from love. They had to be helped, poor dears, because they were so obviously bloody hopeless. How lucky they were to have her. Recognise the type? It’s not new.
My teachers were more effective recruiters. Of all those who taught me from the age of 4 until I left University at 21, I think only two were Conservative. I can’t even be sure about the first one – a French teacher at secondary school – as it was scarcely a safe admission to make so far inside the Labour heartlesslands. There was just something about her demeanour that suggested it. As for the second one, he was an eccentric homosexual law lecturer; about 500 in gay years. He tucked his shirt into his underpants and pulled them up above his trousers. He was in advance of hip hop fashions, perhaps, but the overall effect, when combined with a tendency actually to drool in the presence of attractive male students, was off-putting. Perhaps he was a double agent making Conservatism as unattractive as possible? He said sensible stuff about the Berlin Wall at Debating Society though – to jeers from Leftist students. After the fall of the wall, leftists affected always to have opposed the totalitarian excesses of the USSR and Warsaw Pact but believe me it was all “our socialist brothers” back then. There were leftist opponents of the Soviets in my university — the Trots who thought the Revolution had been betrayed and should be continued ferociously forever. Over at Oxford at the time, Tony Blair was one of those.
By the age of 12 or 13 I thought I would vote Labour when the time came. By 14 I was reading a grovellingly flattering biography of Marx. By 15 I was reading the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital in translation. I heard the siren words “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need” and — for a while — I was lost. As an earnest young intellectual bathing in big ideas, I thought I was going to change the world. Of course as an adolescent male seeking to assert his independence from his father, the fact that my Marxism made him a villain was a bonus. Poor Dad. How he worried about me. How embarrassed he was when I was suspended from school for my revolutionary activities (selling Free Palestine and The Thoughts of Chairman Mao on school premises and being Welsh chair of the Schools Action Union, which organised the only school pupils strike in British history under the slogan “Don’t take the cane, break the cane!”). It was all from love of the masses of course. I didn’t see that I would be delivering them into servitude to a grim regiment of people like my steely-eyed great aunt — merciless and free from doubt or moral restraint.
There was one good consequence of this nonsense. The late Mrs P. was no communist herself but, years later, she said she was first attracted to me because I was the only boy she knew “who was at least trying to think”. If I had never been an aspiring Maoist thug, there would be no Misses P today.
If Ricky Tomlinson, his band of thugs and their pick-axe handles had not turned up on the building site where I was working in my school holidays I don’t know if I would have continued on that path. I have compassion for my deluded enemies partly because I think “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” I hope I would have read myself out of the foul swamp I’d read myself into but had I arrived at University a leftist, I might well have been lost forever. There were many clever fellow students there who read nothing that challenged their Marxism and I could well have become their mindless comrade.
Just as my daughters owe their existence to Mao Tse-Tung’s sociopathic violence so I owe my classical liberalism to Ricky Tomlinson’s rough thuggery. It’s funny how these things go.
To be continued…
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