Ham-face: what do you do when your family love the politicians you despise? Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/WPA Pool/Getty
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What it’s like to be the lone left-winger in a right-wing family

My grandma thinks Cameron’s a charming, intelligent young man. I think he's a slippery, gammon-faced Putin-lite.

It was during a rather self-righteous conversation about where and when the Niqab should be banned that it really hit me. If life were the House of Commons, I would be staring at my entire family from the other side.

My father and his partner had invited me to stay with them in a cabin in the countryside. Not only did the prospect of a free holiday entice me, but I was curious to see what a few days away from the thinking, talking and writing about politics I did at work would do for my incipient wrinkles and growing cynicism.

But uninspiring weather and the subsequent cabin fever made for relaxation that turned swiftly to mild boredom, wine and finally, politics. I knew in the back of my mind that my family were all Conservative voters, but being reminded of their unfortunate affliction before the wounds of this year's general election were fully healed didn't make for a fun holiday activity.

I was born in South Shields, a deprived town in north-east England that earned its bygone riches on the docks. I come from a working-class Labour stronghold, and, I’d like to think, from ancestors who would be as disgusted as I am with the Conservatives’ neoliberal crusade.

We moved onto richer pastures and left the stark images of Britain’s true working class behind while I was still in single digits, but the backdrop to my formative years has stayed with me.

I know that coming from a working class background isn’t guaranteed to turn one into a raving socialist, just as much as having five middle names doesn’t guarantee entry into the Bullingdon club.

The conflicting views of Ed and David Miliband on how Labour should run the country are a good example of how nurture and background alone aren’t enough to define your politics. But a family of raving Tories with Geordie accents makes for a perplexing sight.

My mother’s career has involved several stints as an employee of the NHS. After my parents’ divorce, financial help from the state in the form of my free school meals and university maintenance grant (now loan – thanks to Osborne) helped alleviate their financial strain.

We also have a relative with learning difficulties, whose care home is suffering funding cuts. It's not as simple as north, poor and left versus south, rich and right, but Labour should be the natural party of my family nevertheless.

Any attempts to lure my more suggestible parent (my mother) away from the Conservatives have been fruitless. Before this year’s general election, I asked her why she was voting Conservative. “Because Ed Miliband is so negative,” she said. “Whenever I see him on TV, all he does is complain and say everything the Conservatives do is wrong.”

After narrowly avoiding a burst blood vessel, I told her this was the opposition’s job, unless the opposition was the Conservatives and they were backing Labour’s spending plan penny-for-penny before the financial crash. But let’s not talk about the financial crash, because according to the Browns, that was all Labour’s fault.

And it spreads further than my parents. My grandma thinks Cameron’s a charming, intelligent young man. I think he's a slippery, gammon-faced Putin-lite; an opinion she didn’t take to very well.

While on holiday, my father’s partner recounted a weird experience she’d had at the polling station on election day. She said the man in the booth next to her asked for help, in an Eastern European accent. “He didn’t know what to do, so I had to explain it to him. Then he asked me who he should vote for,” she said.

“I bet he just came over here to vote. I bet he wasn’t even a British citizen,” my father chimed in. In his defense, and to my relief, he stopped short of “send ‘em all back”.

For a long time I felt like I’d missed out because my parents didn’t really attempt to engage me in politics when I was younger. But being left to figure it out for myself has been a blessing in disguise.

The only way I’d pick the party that favours the rich, hides behind the much-debunked trickle-down theory and favours corporation over compassion is if I’d had been drilled into me from an early age that it was right.

It’s unfortunate that my family don’t see things the same way, but I think our bond will withstand our differences. Just so long our next holiday has less wine and better weather.

Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left