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.

Photo:Getty
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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.