Why I will never be a Conservative

September 17, 2008

I suppose there are two periods of my father’s life. Before unemployment. And afterwards.

My father was a timber salesman. He was a confident and popular community activist. He set up a scout troop – brought people together and organised things. And then the boatyards abandoned their marine plywood for fibreglass and the reproduction furniture makers went bust.

Unemployment arrived whilst I was still at school.

Dad, who could tell you the story of an oak – its driest summers, hardest winters – from the grain of its sawn boards, was out of work.

When work disappeared, so too did the child’s image of a father, and the father’s image of himself. Confidence, like the community, kept a respectful distance or crept quietly away.

I loathed myself for pitying him and his self-loathing, a cocktail of disgust that we both swallowed to relieve the unhappiness of our hours together.

When I finally arrived at university my roommate and I both had fathers who were out of work. We figured it was an Oxbridge conspiracy, pushing us to the margins, until the pair of us realised that my name began with an ‘M’, and my roommate’s with a ‘P’. There were no ‘N’s in college. It was only the alphabet conspiring against us.

My roommate’s father killed himself, after being blacklisted as a trade union organiser. In a coincidence as piteous as it was dramatic, the very night I heard, my father left me a message. He had a job.

It wasn’t much of a job. It meant leaving home and living in a caravan which he kept heated by smoking yet more of the cigarettes that eventually killed him. (But first – please note – smoking took his legs; his heart; and his lungs.) Still, it was work, not welfare.

That was the 1980s. Big hair. Bad pop music. The era of Margaret Thatcher. AIDS.

A little family misery was not the spark from which the flame of student revolution would be lit.

When I went to work at CBS News and ITN, I got to meet some of the Conservative cabinet ministers who had presided over the economy and passed the laws which destroyed my child’s father.

They were characters. Jolly and entertaining. Before the tape rolled some disarmingly admitted weaknesses to you that on camera they denied. That was the game. Others combined sentimentality with hubris.

Having put away childish things, I knew that none of them had done anything to harm my father. Nor had the bosses who’d laid him off, or the customers who’d been unable to buy.

But that’s not the title of this post.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlie Beckett September 17, 2008 at 14:48

Great stuff Adrian. And how does one reconcile that with the reality of rising unemployment under G Brown? (They are not all Lehman workers…)

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Adrian Monck September 17, 2008 at 17:10

Keynes was right about modern unemployment. It’s just society’s inability to see a leisure opportunity.

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peter September 19, 2008 at 17:48

John Braine – Room at the Top 1960
John Mortimer – Rapstone Chronicles 1990
Adrian Monck – _________ 2010

?

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Adrian Monck September 19, 2008 at 20:13

Richard Hoggart quotes Chekhov at the start of his essay, Scholarship Boy:

Do, please, write a story of how a young man, the son of a serf, who has been a shop boy, a chorister, pupil of a secondary school, and a university graduate, who has been brought up to respect rank and to kiss the priest’s hand, to bow to other people’s ideas, to be thankful for each morsel of bread, who has been thrashed many a time, who has had to walk about tutoring without goloshes, who has fought, tormented animals, has been fond of dining at the house of well-to-do relations, and played the hypocrite both to God and man without any need but merely out of consciousness of his own insignificance – describe how that young man squeezes the slave out of himself, drop by drop, and how, awakening one fine morning, he feels running in his veins no longer the blood of a slave but genuine human blood.

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peter huppertz September 20, 2008 at 09:08

Great stuff.

It’s not very different here (Netherlands). My mother was first brought down to her knees by her failing health (something that had haunted her even before I was born), and was eventually almost brought down by what we called a conservative government back in the ’80’s.

But in 1994, it was her body that finally called it a day. Even in those days, she was reasonably taken care of. Even though she’s never been doing well financially, and was living on very little money during the last 10 years of her life, she was able to live in her own (rented) house, with decent care and reasonable comfort. I am sure that, if she would’ve lived today, the privatisation of health care and health insurance and the ‘efficiency operations’ in the industry would have killed her before her body would have caved in on its own accord.

Having gone through this, even though I do not specifically dislike conservative politicians, I find it impossible to vote for them. That’s outside the realm of classical reasoning. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

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peter September 22, 2008 at 15:48

ok – so its “The Scholarship Boy” by Adrian Monck, early 2010.

I just put it on my amazon wish list

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Lara Pawson November 18, 2008 at 19:40

Only just seen this Adrian. Fucking great post. Write the book, man! Peter’s right.

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deb November 19, 2008 at 16:32

This post totally held my attention. I would gladly have read more!

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Robert Jones December 3, 2008 at 21:09

Adrian

Have only just read this post. Which moved me more than anything else I have read of what you have written. You wrote it from the heart. But it is also about all sons and fathers.

My Dad, like yours, knew his grains of wood. But he never understood why I moved away from the Conservatism of my youth and early adult years. Because trade unionists in his own factory were encouraging the men to walk out with the factory products. My father sided with bosses, and exposed his workmates, which meant he had a difficult time! But he took solace from the Daily Mail, who told him he was doing right.

That’s why I am not a Conservative. Because I could see how he had been exploited by his employers. Who never appreciated and rewarded his intelligence. Because he was paid to work with his hands, not his brain.

But my father was never a management lackey. And, from how you describe him, neither was yours.

Cheers

Bob Jones

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Victoria Iasoni January 7, 2009 at 20:39

Don’t know how I came across your blog. I am writing from the USA. Many of us are facing or will be facing the dislocation of unemployment.

What you wrote hit a note in my much longer life.
The medium which you are using will connect us with ideas which will sustain us.

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Daniel January 22, 2009 at 16:18

I can’t join in the general praise of this article, I’m afraid; I find its tone juvenile and its content absurd (I can’t believe that your father ‘kept [his caravan] heated by smoking yet more of the cigarettes that eventually killed him’, because it wouldn’t achieve that end; if you’re making a particular point about smoking, your father was an adult and it was his choice to smoke – surely you don’t blame that on the conservatives?), albeit moving in the particular sense.

You realised that ‘none of [the conservatives] had done anything to harm [your] father’ but because of what happened to him you will never be a conservative. Is this logical?

What do you suppose should have happened to your father’s job? Somehow, fibreglass should have been disinvented by the Tories? Or should they have banned it? Or should the wooden boat industry have received government subsidies to go on producing wooden boats when people really wanted fibreglass ones? Perhaps they could have introduced import tarriffs on fibreglass boats – but what of the jobs lost to our exporters in the inevitable retaliations?

Where does this end – with spinning jennies still spinning and no tractors in the fields?

I have great sympathy for your personal position, and that of your father, and I can understand – for personal reasons – how distressing it would have been to see a great (in your eyes, I’m sure) man brought so low. But governments and political movements cannot make law or policy based on sad individual stories.

Equally, no government can turn back the tide of progress – however much we might wish it could – and this is the great lie of socialism.

The capitalist system generally espoused by conservatives and rejected by socialists is flawed – but however flawed it is, it is not so flawed as socialism. Conservatism has given us, generally, immeasurably better lives than we would have experienced under socialism – ask those who grew up under the Soviets. That is a fact, however sad your father’s situation was.

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Hardwood Flooring Orange County October 31, 2009 at 21:45

Does that go hand in hand with international policies enforced by the big boys, right wingers, and conservatives. The fact that many lives abroad and here were lost in the name of freedom. Truthfully filling their pockets with almighty dollar.Thanks for the blog.

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Jim P November 13, 2009 at 22:56

As the room mate in question, I certainly echo the sentiments of the blog – or the title at any rate. And in a heart felt riposte to Daniel, I have to express my view that the true absurdity lay in the cold heartedness of monetarist economists and politicians who believed that society was dead and the individualism of capitalist excess was a greater goal than the welfare (or indeed the lives) of honest hard working men. And in any case, having experienced the cruel reality of the impact of unemployment at such close, and unforgiving quarters, one can be forgiven for allowing ones heart to play some role in determining ones political philosophy!

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Bertie Humbug April 11, 2010 at 01:27

You didnt explain why you would never be a Conservative? Care to actually finish your post??

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