Ham-face: what do you do when your family love the politicians you despise? Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/WPA Pool/Getty
Show Hide image

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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496