My politics

I have always taken the view that a gentleman would no more exhibit his politics in public than he would his genitalia. One corollary of that is that a politician is not a gentleman, a view from which I would only dissent for very special exceptions. Unfortunately, however, I have found, willy-nilly, myself in a situation where I find various political ascriptions to myself that I find alien. I have been described by hostile correspondents, which fortunately form a tiny minority, as a consorter with Marxists, a neocon, even a fascist. Therefore, with the greatest of reluctance I set out my political stall.

The one constant theme in my political attitudes is an abhorrence of socialism. This stems from my upbringing in the socialist stronghold of Tottenham. The Labour activists were the arrogant elite. They all lived in (to our eyes) luxurious subsidised council housing. They appeared to be affluent – some of them even had cars. They were contemptuous, foul-mouthed and self-satisfied.

My father was a working class Tory. One of thirteen children of a railway labourer and a genuine cockney (born in Bow), he started work sorting nails in the local furniture factory at the age of fourteen. He pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. My earlier memories of him include having to keep quiet while he did his homework from evening classes. He ended up as an internal auditor. He had been offered a scholarship to grammar school, but his parents could not afford the costs, such as a uniform, so it was declined. He made sure that I did not suffer the same fate.

Tottenham at that time was one of the old distinct villages of North London (all gone now) and my maternal great grand parents probably met at the junior school that I attended.

I well remember an altercation between my father and one of my maternal uncles. The latter had marched in and torn down my father’s election poster of Winston Churchill. He was one of those who returned from the war full of egalitarian zeal for the new age. Within five years he realised that the freedoms for which he had fought were being systematically eroded and, as a result, became as right wing as you can get and remained so until his death.

Much to my father’s disgust I became a Liberal supporter. My political hero was (and still is in many ways, but not all) Jo Grimond . When he retired from the leadership, for me, the party lost its way. After a period of no allegiance I became increasingly concerned about the lurch to the left by the Labour Party and the destructive power of trade union leaders and the influence of politicians like Tony Benn, so with some reluctance I joined the Conservative Party. I admired Edward Heath, but his administration was a failure. The comparisons of that with Margaret Thatcher’s success, however, are unjust, in that he had to deal with an oil crisis while she had an oil bonanza. I became a Euro-enthusiast, much to my later shame. I liked Edward Heath and much later I met him socially over a pint on several occasions, but I can never forgive him for the secret betrayal of our farmers, fishermen and other sections of society. I have only twice been seriously misled in believing a politician (the second being over WMD). In the referendum for EU membership I campaigned fervently for a yes vote. I was wrong. The EU we were getting was not the convergence of democracies I believed in, but an undemocratic corrupt bureaucracy.

At first I was an enthusiastic supporter of Margaret Thatcher. I still believe in many of the things she said before her election as Prime Minister. By then I had moved to Hampshire and had joined the local branch, eventually becoming chairman. I still believe that she was the necessary cure for a dreadful disease. She was a lucky Prime Minister. Not only did she have an oil bonanza, which enabled her to take on the trades union leaders who were destroying the economy, but she managed by the petty savings of the withdrawal of a patrol ship to start a war which secured her tenure. With increasing misgivings I continued my membership of the party. I even (to my dying shame) tried to justify (for example) the poll tax to an impoverished elderly widow, who was paying the same amount as the millionairess  in the nearby manor house. When Thatcher went, I thought that the party would return to reason. Her Government, in the arrogance that goes with a large majority, had ignored the party in the country and had let it fall into decay. Throughout the eighties members had been leaving in the proverbial droves. Negligence had allowed the world's most efficient electoral machine to fall into decay. “There is nobody listening” was the repeated cry at constituency meetings. My hopes were to be dashed. Not only did the Government fall into decay and corruption, but it betrayed everything that I associated with the word Conservative. It was summed up by journalist Anatole Kaletsky following an interview with a Conservative Minister

“This man calls himself a Conservative. Yet there seems to be nothing he wants to conserve...........”

 Many people had different last straws at that time. Mine was the proposal to close Bart’s Hospital. Since 1123 it had represented a tradition of excellence that was becoming all too rare. As I was to write later:

It was not simply that I had once had the privilege of working closely with the Bart's researchers and had gloried in being part of the tradition. I think I had more in mind the words of historical writers (such as the inspiring Canadian, Thomas B Costain) that the foundation of the great hospitals (St Thomas's, St Bartholomew’s, Bethlehem, Bridewell and Christ's) together with the great universities marked the end of the Dark Ages. It seemed to me that we were entering a new Dark Age, but the invader sweeping aside the culture was from the inside, Spreadsheet Man.

I left the party in 1993. I have never belonged to a political party since. I have always voted, recently either Conservative or Liberal Democrat, whichever is most likely to defeat Labour. I used to claim to be an adherent of Disraelian Conservatism (The preservation of institutions and amelioration of the condition of the people) but the socialists and Thatcherites have destroyed all the institutions, so that position is no longer tenable. Since the bloodless coup by which the Greens took over the Conservative Party, I have come to think that I will probably never vote again. My only allegiance is to science and its methods. My only belief is in disbelief:

"The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin."
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)

 John Brignell

February 2006

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