Born with natural advantages – I went to school at Winchester – I was lucky enough to be able to have squirreled-away enough money to found an Artificial Intelligence company in my early 30’s and to move to a lovely village in West Hampshire. This was 1986 – peak Thatcher era.
Like many rural communities, the village was divided into the “locals” and the “gentry” (wealthy people).
I made an immediate impact with the locals. The day we moved in I went into the pub across the road from my house and was engaged by an old local.
“Ooh aar, you be moving in then?” (this should have been obvious because there was a very large removals van parked outside my house and several men unloading furniture).
I explained, that yes I was moving in.
“You be from around these parts then?” (note the use of the Wessex “be” – see footnote)
Yes, I explained that my family came from Overton – a larger village about 7 miles away.
“Who be them then?”
It transpired that he had worked for my great-uncle Sid and that he knew my family. We had a few beers and I was introduced to several other lunchtime regulars.
From then on I was accepted by the locals in the village. Other yuppies (I was definitely a yuppie – I had a Filofax and a Barbour) had their cars vandalised. Yuppies were not very popular but word had obviously got around that I was acceptable to the locals.
I arrived home one day to be told by my wife that we were going to the Conservative garden party (fundraising) event in a couple of weeks time. I protested. I have always been on the left wing of the Labour Party but my wife insisted that she wanted to meet more people and anyway she had already accepted an invitation from one of the yummy mummies she had met at the school gate and it would be impolite not go. So we went; there was no point arguing.
At the garden party there was a wine tasting competition. You had to say which country each of 5 wines came from. I like wine but the main reason I won was because I am sure that I was the only one who didn’t drink expensive wine – most of the others had probably never tasted Bulgarian red. The prize was a very large bottle of champagne (Jereboam).
I continued to visit the pub and mix with the locals there (it was literally just across the road), was invited by the gentry to a number of dinner parties, and travelled with them on the train to London a couple of days a week. I was questioned as to what I did but I said “computers” and that was enough to silence them although one of my fellow passengers had seen me at the MoD. I always had to steer away from discussions about school because most of them I discovered had gone to minor public schools (for American readers I should explain that in the UK public schools are not open to the public, they are very expensive and not anyone can go to them) and they were in awe of someone who had gone to Winchester. They naturally assumed I had attended Winchester College rather than Winchester County Secondary Modern School.
The next Conservative event was a skittles evening at my local pub and I won that. Later the same evening I was cornered by a “deputation” and closely quizzed –
“We understand that your family is from around here, you went to Winchester, you have a computer business, you are married with 3 children? etc. etc.
Afterwards they went into a huddle and I was then asked if I would like to have my name put forward as a candidate to be the next MP. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. The constituency was solid Conservative and would elect a monkey if one was put forward (one subsequently was). I have always been interested in politics but I didn’t have any difficulty in explaining that I was not really interested in becoming an MP.
I have often thought what would have happened if I had said “yes”, but not for long. I would be a Baron by now had I said yes but I am reminded of the fate of WH Smith who was lampooned by Gilbert and Sullivan in HMS Pinafore because he “always voted at his party’s call and never thought of thinking for himself at all”.
I am too independent-minded to be told what to do by party whips – only my wife engenders that obedience but lack of independent mindedness is a fate that most MPs suffer from. My own local MP is a very nice man, a Conservative, but I don’t think he has ever rebelled against the party whip (a bit difficult because he is one). He is a very good constituency MP. In a government of mediocrities, he is a mediocrity.
Being able to mix with both the locals and the gentry is an experience that relatively few people have (Ross Poldark did). Doing so and not forgetting ones roots is even rarer. Too many “Blairite” Labour MPs have turned to the “dark side” preferring to vote against their roots. Blair never had this problem, he was always a public schoolboy. Similarly Harriet Harman and a raft of others. Genuine working class Labour MPs are relatively rare (Dennis Skinner, Angela Rayner) but they are closer to 90%+ of the UK population than the others.
Can you really imagine Tony Blair attending the Durham Miner’s Gala and getting the reception that Jeremy Corbyn received? The Labour party needs to rid itself of these disguised Tories – I am all for a rainbow of opinions and can even understand people like Jess Phillips – I admire her support of battered women. My daughter works in that sector and there are some horrendous cases but sometimes I wish Jess would just STFU. Labour needs people inside the tent pissing out not inside pissing in.
As politics polarises, I cannot bring myself to hate all Tories. Some are nice people, just very misguided. Others are selfish. There is no other word to describe it. Their attitude to life is “me, me, me” – I have met them handing out Labour leaflets on the street.
They have no empathy for the disadvantaged in our society.
Even though I disliked Blair – I will never forgive him for taking us to war in Iraq, I gritted my teeth and voted Labour. I had more empathy with Brown whom I considered to be decent. Ed Miliband could not eat a bacon sandwich and was never going to make it to be PM. Jeremy Corbyn is different – see my earlier blogs and although I think he is wrong not to oppose Brexit (yet) he has integrity.
My father always voted Labour. He was brought up in Wapping (then a very deprived area in East London). His father died in the 1919 Spanish flu epidemic. My dad fought the Fascists at Cable Street and spent from 1939 to 1946, what should have been some of the best years of his life, fighting Germans. He always admired Germans; so do I – some of my best friends are Germans. He was a big influence on my life and fortunately 3 days before he died Mrs Thatcher announced that people who had previously been denied war pensions would receive them. My mother therefore received a widow’s war pension and my father died knowing that she would have no money worries. So, even though I consider Mrs Thatcher to have been a nightmare PM – at least she did some good and I cannot hate all Tories, even her.
The Wessex “be” – is a good construct. “I be” is used interchangeably with “I am”, and “You are” followed by a verb – e.g. I be going, You be going. Of course it makes the user appear to be a yokel but don’t be fooled. Them often be (they are often) pretty sharp knives in the block.
Great uncle Sid was a “character”. I remember having to apologise to a waitress on his behalf after he had pinched her bottom at a funeral. He was 94 at the time.
Yuppie – a popular term in the 1980’s used to describe young upwardly mobile professionals. Also BOBO’s – a VC term – “Burnt Out But Oppulent)