Death of an adversary – a personal history !
When I was at school I was very into politics. Or I thought I was !
My views were a bit odd. I considered myself Liberal (this was in the late 70’s long before the Lib-Dems). In some ways I was, but my views were stridently left wing. All in all a good mix for an aspiring politician finding his feet in life.
At the West Yorkshire grammar school I attended, there were few others in my 6th Form fired up about politics. There were several people into Rock Against Racism, and proudly wearing Anti Nazi League and “Who Seh ?” and “Go Deh !” badges, but to be honest the badges were the extent of it. People were as likely to wear Anarchist or Red Army Faction badges – with no understanding of what it meant. Neither had we yet twigged that the Socialist Worker Party was not really the benign opponent of the National Front we thought.
No – there were just 3 others : Firstly Yasin – the only Asian in school. He and I were active in promoting Anti Nazi League agendas, including unfair accusations against teachers which got us into trouble, he persuaded me to join the Young Liberals (seriously underwhelming) – before defecting to Labour when he got a chance to appear in a photo-shoot with Shirley Williams as a representative of the Asian Youth Movement ( I suspect another entryist group). I believe he’s now a wealthy city trader, with no political affiliation.
Next up – Adam : The son of a local Tory councillor and well known grumpy old git shop keeper, he distributed leaflets from nutcase far right groups. Despite generally being a very personable lad, he was racist, and blamed the world’s problems on “Paki’s” .
If I’m to cut him any slack, his home (above the shop) was on a street more or less cleared under slum clearance, then re-occupied by large numbers of poorly educated, and generally poverty stricken Asian families. This affected his Dad’s business – more so when the same people set up their own shops offering competition which had never previously existed.
Last I heard he lived in a large converted farmhouse in the South Midlands, no interest in politics, and his Dad’s shop is long since demolished.
Finally there was Andrew who didn’t appear to be political. didn’t distribute leaflets, campaign for anything or wear badges. He listened to Santana records because his friends did – he wasn’t fussed really. He looked smart in his Grammar School blazer, and smiled alot. People liked him. Me too.
As we approached the 1979 election though my opinion changed. I saw the election as my chance to start being a politician (yes I was that naive !) a rehearsal for my forthcoming days at University, when I would inevitably lead the vanguard of the revolution (for the Liberals – are you catching the inconsistencies ?). I campaigned vigorously amongst my fellow A-Level students who would all be voting for the first time. I liked to think that I had the better of the arguments.
Andrew was a funny one though. He was never swayed by my arguments, nor did he just ignore me, nor did he just take the p*** – he calmly countered with what I felt were totally unreasonable arguments, and a hurt look on his face.
Why should my taxes pay for people who can’t be bothered to work ?
Why should someone hardworking like me, have to pay higher taxes than someone who can’t be bothered to do anything but work in a factory ?
Some things were very odd : Why should I carry a Kidney Donor Card ? If I was in an accident the doctors would use my kidney to save someone who probably didn’t deserve it
He made my blood boil – but never lost his cool. Just looked wounded and hurt, like I was being unreasonable.
His clincher was this – He told everyone in the 6th Form that they should vote Conservative. Why ? because we are the elite who will get the elite jobs – it’s in our best interests to vote for our party.
On the 4th May 1979 I woke up to Margaret Thatcher as PM. The Liberals were wiped out, Labour decimated. This time there was a big majority – the see-saw politics of the 70’s was quite clearly over. Some 4 years later I spoke with a friend from school, now an unemployed graduate who told me “I voted Conservative because Andrew told me to. So did everybody else, I just liked him, and he seemed pretty intelligent. “. Of course he now seriously regretted it.
For my part I never really got over the disappointment of that year, and the subsequent collapse of left wing opposition which didn’t really recover until Labour’s 1997 victory – and it’s only in the last couple of months – 30 years later, that I’ve once again had the courage of my convictions to once again join a political party – The Labour Party.
Along the way I did make contact with Andrew, now living in a pleasant part of North Yorkshire, a member of the Conservatives, and married to a teacher working in a private school. As I was at the time the Head of an independent (charity run) special school, I couldn’t resist firing a few barbed comments about the teachers in private schools being largely unqualified, and under paid in relation to the state sector – not that those in my school were. I presumed my acid drops hit the mark, as I received no further comment.
Until a couple of weeks since. Out of the blue another friend from school got in touch via Facebook. We reminisced a little – and I was flattered that he expressed surprise that I hadn’t pursued a career in politics – since I was always so much into the Labour Party (which I wasn’t actually – but that’s how he remembered it). Inevitably we got to talking about Andrew.
Oh yes I see his wife about twice a year –
Why don’t you see him.
Didn’t you know – he died of leukaemia about two years ago !
Once again my adversary had defeated me, but this time I felt no bitterness. Only sadness.
Andrew inadvertently taught me lots of things.
He taught me that I was naive and confused in 1979. He taught me that although all people get a vote, not all people care about how they use it – but all their votes count. He taught me that people don’t always go for the strongest argument. Sometimes they go for the nicest smile or the smartest blazer. He taught me that politics needs principles, but also needs the support of the unprincipled.
Most importantly of all he reminded me that we all have only one life – so we’d better do our best to make a good go of it first time round.
I’m sorry I was unkind to Andrew, he didn’t deserve it and I will miss him. He was a very worthy adversary.
I’ll still be voting Labour though !
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