It might not seem like the most likely moment to talk about politics, when my natural instincts are all driving me to dig a big deep hole somewhere and hide away, all mammal-like, to give birth in peace; but for today at least, that’s where my mind is. So I thought I’d tell you the whole unlikely story of how I got to be a bit of a lefty.
I wasn’t raised that way. My parents are avid Telegraph subscribers and huge Thatcher fans. I was brought up thinking that the Iron Lady was the bees’ knees. Our home was a happy place that day in 1992 when John Major was re-elected Prime Minister.
Well, at least our home was politically aware. Dad likes to read aloud to us all from The Daily Telegraph comments’ section. I remember my mum’s seemingly weird obsession with us always knowing who the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary were at any one time (I may have known their names but I didn’t know what they actually did). My education taught me next to nothing about politics or economics: the concept of having to pay tax on my earnings was first introduced to me by a friend when I was about 20, and I was horrified. But at least I knew who was in the cabinet.
I can understand how Thatcher bred such loyalty in my parents. Political ideology aside, they, (we), belonged to a segment of society that did pretty well under her leadership. We worked and saved and prospered.
It did of course help that we weren’t miners.
In John Smith’s day, my mother’s working class loyalties were re-awoken and there was political tension in the household. I think she might even have voted for Tony Blair once, but don’t quote me on that.
But still, I just wasn’t that interested in politics. Hardly anyone around me was.
When I turned up at university and gravitated towards all things theatrical, I encountered for the first time a group of people who read The Guardian, and laughed at my Tory-graph-reading (“Seriously? These papers have a political bias?”). My new, cool, lefty, arty friends started me on a bit of a drift leftwards, but conviction was still pretty thin on the ground.
So I guess it was really in my 20s that I finally started thinking about politics, and reading things, and working out where I stood. Justice started to matter to me when I looked at the world and read more of the Bible; my work at Tearfund meant I kept confronting horrendously unfair systems and laws that were locking people in poverty both here and overseas; it became obvious to me that charity was never going to be enough to change the world. And yet the God I worship seems to always be asking big and awkward questions about what we’re all doing to make things fair and look out for the weakest. It brings you back to politics pretty fast (boring and messy and compromised as it is, Russell Brand).
But why lefty politics? One glance across the channel to the US would have you believe that Christian faith is practically synonymous with right-wing politics. I’ll save that rant for another day; but here’s why that’s not the case for me.
I loved how Peter Ormerod put it in The Guardian this weekend:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, not saying: “Blessed are the rich, because your wealth trickles down and everyone’s a winner.
“Blessed are those who are full, because that means you’re not scrounging off the rest off us.
“Blessed are you who are laughing now, because you’re obviously hardworking, responsible, decent people.”
It would be reductive and misleading simply to describe Jesus as a leftie… But it’s safe to say that, in terms of the left’s usual causes célèbres, Jesus does pretty well: nonviolence, support for outcasts and outsiders, the redistribution of power and wealth in favour of the powerless and poor, forgiveness,taxation, reconciliation, figs.
Leaving aside the question of figs, he summarises things pretty well. I don’t believe in the nonsense of the trickle-down effect; I think that serious work needs to be done to reduce the shocking (and increasing) divide between rich and poor because it makes everyone more miserable as well as just being unfair; I have even become a huge fan of tax – I love that we all have to contribute to free education and healthcare and roads for everyone.
I am far from an uncritical supporter of all the Labour party has done in the past decades, but their policies and values sit closer to my justice-seeking heart than any of the alternatives, and that’s why I’m a member. Also, being a member means they have to listen to me.
Yes, things are a little depressing for my parents now, politically. First I joined the Labour party and then I married a man who actually works at a desk in Labour HQ, with Labour MPs. I’ve even been to their staff Christmas do. (It’s fair to say that we don’t talk a lot about politics with the family).
And the reason my mind has turned to all this again this week is because the lefty political organisation which Andy leads, and of which I am a member, is relaunching. The Christian Socialist Movement has now become Christians on the Left, and relaunches in Parliament tomorrow night. We are a group of Christians affiliated to, but not owned by, The Labour Party, who care passionately about social justice and believe that we need to pursue it from within politics as well as outside of it. Oh, and we have this small dream of rewiring the global economic system.
And I’d love to hear where the intersection of faith and politics leads you, or how you ended up where you are politically. You can be right-wing and still my friend.