We don’t often share our personal views on politics. Well, not in UK, anyway. There are all kinds of taboos. It isn’t just that there’s so much emphasis on the secret ballot. There are strong but unspoken social rules about not offending people by trying to discuss political issues. Never, we were taught (when I was growing up) talk about religion or politics. Never. It seemed almost as strong as the taboos surrounding sex – and made about as much sense. Even politicians seem to struggle to express beliefs rather than talk about e.g. numbers of immigrants or unemployed. Sometimes, on social media, I think those walls are beginning to crumble, but still, it’s hard to know where your friends are coming from. I don’t mind putting my cards on the table. They’re quite varied cards.
Over the course of my life I have voted for numerous different parties. When I first went to uni, a school-friend’s older brother dragged me into the Young Conservatives but I retreated fairly sharply. When I was first married we supported our local Liberal Party but were gradually disillusioned by the behaviour of various national politicians (including one who was on the board of the company I worked for). I joined the Labour Party for a short time but didn’t feel the local party was my spiritual home even though I share a lot of their socialist ideas. Whilst teaching, I was a union rep for NASUWT and was on the local committee. I was also a delegate at various TUC meetings and conferences – and at NASUWT annual conferences. Once I retired I joined the Pirate Party and definitely agree with their manifesto whilst rolling my eyes at their inability to organise themselves. I have never cancelled my membership but I have only once been to a conference and of course they don’t provide candidates to vote for in most places.
I have voted for all the main parties in both local and national elections, and once for the Greens in local elections. Sometimes I vote tactically. I suppose you could call me a floating voter but that implies shifting philosophies and being easy to sway. I don’t believe either applies to me. I’m quite cynical about politicians but eternally hopeful that socialist policies might prevail. I remember when I was working and someone was asking who would or wouldn’t man the barricades (I think we were discussing Les Miserables at the time) another colleague pointed at me and said I would have built them. I ought to point out, for the benefit of any American readers, that all our main political parties (with the exception of UKIP etc. and other right wing organisations) are well to the left of anything that happens in US. Our politics have more in common with the Australian variety except that they call Conservatives ‘Liberals’ and so on.
My career was largely in the field of anti-racist education, with a short side step into language teaching for a company (the one with the Liberal director). Again, I attended and organised conferences, went on marches, and read and read and read. I got interested in the politics of some of my students from countries including Libya, Iraq and Iran.
I follow politics avidly. I read New Statesman every week. I subscribe to Searchlight and read their magazine – I think it’s currently quarterly but it keeps changing its mind. I enjoy Private Eye but don’t subscribe so haven’t seen it during lockdown. I watch programmes like Dateline London, Peston, Newsnight, Hardtalk, etc. Our default TV channels are BBC Parliament and various news channels including BBC News and Al Jazeera. I read the Guardian daily, plus a Spectator email. I buy and read books about politics and economics. I get email news from organisations like Hope Not Hate, and Electronic Frontier Foundation. Sometimes I donate. Sometimes I sign petitions. Sometimes, as with EFF, Avaaz, the Refugee Council, and Amnesty, I subscribe.
I like to follow international politics, not just those of my own country. I’m no expert but I think I’m reasonably well informed. I’m particularly interested in Australian and US politics simply because I have friends in both countries and since their main language in both cases is English, the reports are easy to follow and I can then have discussions with my friends. However, I also enjoy information about e.g. Germany, Portugal, and Spain, garnered through media reports but also from friends who live in those countries. I have also read a lot of history dealing with western European countries in particular. I used to devour books about the Third Reich and more recently I dived deep into accounts of Franco’s Spain.
I enjoy fiction that centres round the history and politics of a country. I did a postgrad thesis on the uses of literature – written in English but from other countries – in the English classroom and read a lot of books dealing with India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as well as US. I was fascinated – and then sad that the National Curriculum would not allow me to share my fascination. Again, I should tell American readers that American literature is currently frowned on or ignored in our high schools. I like films like Pride, Made in Dagenham and I, Daniel Blake.
I have been on numerous political marches, sometimes as a union delegate and with a group carrying a banner, and sometimes just for myself (usually with a friend or my husband). These have varied – memorable examples are the annual Tolpuddle Martyr’s March, the Live 8 Edinburgh event, and local anti-fascist demonstrations against e.g. the National Front.
I have always voted. I believe in democracy, and I believe in socialism. But I’m not a supporter of any particular party at the moment and apart from my somewhat distanced membership of the Pirate Party I can’t imagine joining one. I agree with the Martin Luther King quotation in my header, but would leave religion out of the equation. (The other taboo, religion, is for another day…)
So I’m very left wing without being a member of a left wing organisation. Nowadays I would be a physical liability on a march or demonstration of any kind, but I can still sign petitions, donate to causes I think worthy, and, as ever, read, read, read.