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Wednesday, 10 May 2017

What Part did Politics Play in Your Family Life?

People say never speak about those two often thorny, divisive  subjects - religion and politics,  but both can play an important part in family life.  Given current topicality, I have chosen to look  back at the part politics played in my own family, as I was growing up.

"Politically informed but no activist" - that sums up my attitude. My father (below)  had a strong interest in current affairs and politics and this rubbed off on me from a relatively early age.  He also involved himself in community affairs wherever he lived as I have done.

We were a family who always listened to the news (radio in the  morning and  TV in the evening), and watched major events ranging from the Queen's Coronation, Royal Weddings, and Sir Winston Churchill's funeral,  to the building of the Berlin Wall, Cuban crisis, space missions returning to earth and  the shooting of President Kennedy - this had a particularly strong impact on me, especially  as I had never lost anyone  close to me. 

During Kennedy's election campaign I was still at school and JFK was someone we admired and we poured over the photographs of Jackie's fashions.  We saw on TV his powerful inauguration speech, his meeting with Kruschev, his speech at the Berlin Wall and my father got up during the night to hear his statement on the Cuban crisis.  We felt part of a new era.   Young and energetic-looking for a world leader, he made such a contrast with our own Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who seemed to epitomise the Edwardian period of 50 years past. 

Dad had left school  at 14 years old and was very much  a  self-taught man.  He was unashamedly Conservative, reader of "The Daily Telegraph", admired the Queen, Winston Churchhill and Margaret Thatcher and was a member of the local constituency party helping at fund raising events, delivering election leaflets etc.  He often wrote letters to the local newspaper on political issues - much to the concern of my mother who did not like the verbal brickbats that he could receive.

I have recollections of the Suez Crisis of 1956.   Through one of those quirks of fate,  an international event had an impact on our  family,  as  my father was transferred work-wise from Lancashire (my mother's home all her life) across country  to York to replace  his predecessor who was in the  territorial army and called up to serve.  We later moved to Scotland and experienced a different political scene.

At school I was hopeless at creative imaginative writing and in exams etc. I always opted for the report style topic. The General Election of 1959 gave me inspiration for an essay at school where I won a prize - so it stuck in my mind.  I began with "Here is the six o' clock new - A General Election has been called for..........the rest I can't remember at all,  but I ended with   "Here is the 6 o'clock news - all election results are in and the Conservatives have been returned with a majority"  - at the time I thought this linking of the start and the finish was a neat essay writing technique!  In both French and German exams,  one essay choice was to  write on a famous person - and  each time I chose Sir Winston Churchill. 

With Dad,  I followed the course of General Election campaigns and results and remember one year marking up with coloured pencils a newspaper  election map in  red and blue (Labour & Conservative) with occasional  yellow for Liberals.

At university I studied Modern History and Politics at a time of both a British general election  and American presidential election, when we were given a very informative little booklet  by the American Consulate in Edinburgh explaining the procedures of primaries, electoral college votes  etc. 

Dad and I also shared an interest in journalism and I always fancied working as a newspaper librarian, or as a BBC researcher,  though jobs are few and far between.  However my second professional post was to set up a modern studies information unit at Edinburgh's College of Education.  This was long before the internet, and  it largely involved project files of ephemera - mainly press cuttings, so I got to look though all the quality daily papers - a great job.   

Frustratingly I had to wait quite a time to exercise my own vote - I was 21 just after one election and had to go another 4-5 years before having the next opportunity.   I did attend some hustings and meetings held by  party leaders David Steel (Liberal), Harold Wilson (Labour) and Edward Heath (Conservative).     Those were the days when candidates  actually tried to meet the  public and I once went late at night to hear the results announced from the Town Hall balcony - and that sums up my poliical activities.    Wearing a duffel coat was the  closest I came to student rebellion! 

The suffragette cause is one I have always followed,  and I have always advocated that women should exercise their right to vote, when the battle to achieve it was so hard.  I must have passed this view  onto my daughter,  as she was shocked  to hear me say that I might not vote in an election for members of the European Parliament, as the whole process seemed so  meaningless.     I did end up voting!

I was secretary of my local community council for three years.  I was asked to stand as a Councillor, but I knew it was not for me - I am no good at thinking on my feet and in no way could I cope with the hurly burly cut and thrust of modern day politics, even at a local level.  
But the  influence of my father in being involved in community issues  remains with me,  all be it in a quiet way.   Like him, I am also an avid reader of newspapers.  

But how I vote is between me and the ballot box!

Adapted from a post first written in 2011


  1. Interesting to read about what was going on in your world. I remember a lot of those same things, minus the specific local ones. I must have used that same prompt to write my very short post in 2011. http://findingeliza.com/archives/277

  2. Excellent post. Fascinating to read that JFK was looked to with interest around the world. I well remember his administration's impact from my elementary school years. Brave of you to write about the thorny topic of politics. I did become a student during the Vietnam war and a labor activist later on -- much to my more staid dad's chagrin. In our later years, however, genealogy research and road trips together helped bridge our political gap.

    1. A belated thank you, Mollie, for your comment. It was good to get another perspective of my memories from abroad and I tried to avoid being too contentious!


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