I went to see my elderly parents recently and we were talking about politics – always a risk given that we come from very different perspectives. But I had a surprise in store.
My parents are lifelong Tory voters. In UK politics that means well right of centre. Thankfully they are not too far right, so I was brought up to respect and value other cultures and knowing that fairness was important. But they think being gay is a choice, a very bad choice at that, and talk about young single mothers as if it should be illegal to have children out of wedlock. They think my left wing tendencies are a misguided phase, much like my sexuality I suppose. I usually bite my tongue in order to keep a semblance of peace during my visits.
Since David Cameron became Prime Minister, they have been full of praise for him and his team. “He’ll sort things out now we’ve got rid of the Labour party!” So when my father started talking about the recession, I braced myself for a lecture on why austerity will do the country good. Instead, I heard a different note. They had been trying to find a new savings account, but were worried about the state of the banks. They were shocked by recent events and felt they couldn’t trust the banks anymore. And why is it that bankers are making millions when ordinary people like them are seeing their hard earned savings shrink before their eyes?
As I tried to take this shift on board, my mother started talking about the various debacles around the organising of the Olympics. My mother kicked off with: “These people are useless aren’t they – good organisation has been something this country has always been proud of! How could they get such basic things wrong?” Then my father chimed in “It’s because they’ve used private companies. You can’t expect people to put the country first when they’re busy lining their own pockets! They should have used public services and the armed forces from the start – they know what they’re doing.”
My mother took the ball and ran with it. “There’s too much ‘old boy network’ about all of this. Work goes to companies their friends or their families run. None of them have any idea about real life – they all went to private school, posh universities and walked into trust funds and political posts. They haven’t a clue what life is like for ordinary people!” “My father nodded. “They must think we’re daft if they think we can’t see what’s going on! While pensioners like us watch our income going down every month, these people are milking the country dry and hiding it all in tax havens.”
My father then said something I never thought I would hear. “When it comes to voting next time I really don’t know what I’ll do.” “Well I won’t be voting for this shower, that’s for sure,” said my mother. My father said he would never vote for Labour, and after watching Nick Clegg in action, he certainly couldn’t trust the Liberal Democrats. “But I can’t vote Tory – not after the utter shambles they have made of everything. They’ve got all these advisers and they can’t even think through the impact of taxing hot pasties! Useless – the lot of them!” He went on: “I think UKIP will do well, but I won’t vote for them – too much xenophobia for my liking. And if we’re not a part of Europe, who do we rely on – America? We’re a tiny island that the rest of the world would love to see in trouble – the anti-Europe lobby needs to keep that in mind.”
My mother was in her stride now, as she pointed out something she had read earlier this week. “It’s young people I worry about. These people are being forced to work or they lose their benefits. I don’t agree with the benefits culture, but forced labour – that’s going back to the days of the workhouse. It’s no way to encourage people to better themselves. There are small businesses around here closing every day because the banks won’t lend them money. It doesn’t make sense – help small businesses and they create jobs – then you don’t need what amounts to slavery.”
My father wasn’t going to be left out. “And all this tax dodging – what’s that about? Haven’t these people any decency? If you make money you pay your share of tax – that’s how the country grows and everyone benefits. This selfishness – I don’t know where it comes from – it’s not what being British is all about.”
I drove home deep in thought. My parents will never agree with my politics, but knowing that they are so disenchanted is important. It means that change really is possible. Older middle-class people are crucial for the Tories. Cameron thinks he can rely on them come what may. Well Dave, I have a surprise for you! If you’ve lost my parents, you have lost many, many others. You have gone too far. The bankers, the big corporations, the people lining their pockets – they have all gone too far.
After visiting my parents I usually come home feeling pretty down. It tends to take me a good couple of days to regain my usual optimism. This time, however, it feels like hope and change is a bit closer. Blimey!