"I've been reflecting on Peter Mandelson's words on Monday when he said he didn't choose the Labour Party: he was born into it. I have often thought the same thing about myself – that the Labour Party is so much part of my DNA that I seem congenitally incapable of supporting the Conservative Party."
Yet hang on a second, she also cites one of her cousins on the other side who lifes in the ex-council house my uncle was born in who is a Conservative supporter. There there is me the son of her mother's brother who is a Lib Dem. So clearly, as I believe inherited voting, through the DNA or whatever isn't all it is cracked up to be. Looking at the state of the Labour party today and their prinicples of the past that is clear to me. But I digress, I'm meant to be talking about my political journey.
Rachel started talking about her grandparents. The ones we shared in common are the ones from inner city Londonderry. My Granny Glenn moved as a child from a small village into the big city and it was there that she spent most of her live, in the same two up, two down terrace in the Fountain area on the City side of that divided city. My Grandfather married her and moved into the house to involve looking after my blind by then great grandmother. Gran worked in a shirt factory, he sold Calor gas. But when my father was 14 and my aunt just 9 he passed away. The fact that both her children went to University in such conditions was a sign of how hard working they all were, as well as a testement to free University education. From my father's early pay packets he paid for the installation then bills of a telephone. He's moved to Belfast which was the ends of the earth for the family at the time and it made it easier for him to continue to look after his mother and sister.
On my mums side her father rose to be a Bank Manager, having failed to get to University as he lacked a foreign language a prerequisite at the time. But he was the son of a police man, living at the time of the 1911 Census only about a mile away from my other grandfather. My Grandmother on that side was the daughter of a Baker who had helped in running the store and family when her mother started her long period recuperating from cancer. The result was that of all three of the families that my cousin and my parents came from only my mum could be deemed to be anyting other than working class and then only just on the first rise.
The fact that when my parents married they were gifted my maternal grandparents' retirement bungalow meant I was born into suburban, mainly protestant Bangor, they retired elsewhere in town a couple of years later. However, when I was growing up my neighbours six kids, me and my brother used to play together. We thought nothing about being different every afternoon, but in the morning we'd often pass each other heading in opposite directions as we headed to our respective schools. You may have guessed by the number of them that they headed to the Roman Catholic Primary.
Bangor of course didn't escape the troubles, our church was in the town centre and no sooner had we paid off the damage from one bomb than another caused even more damage. But by in large Bangor was a peaceful place to spend the worse period of the troubles, despite being only 15 miles from the centre of Belfast. The earliest election I remember following was the 1983 General Election both on the Nothern Ireland and national level, don't forget the two types of politics were and still are different. While I couldn't stand the sectarian nature of Northern Irish politics I liked what I heard from the SDP/Liberal Alliance. To be honest if I hadn't joined the Social and Liberal Democrats at their one and only freshers before the name change, I'd probably have joined the SDP. To be equally honest there were only really two parties I would have joined, the others might have been the Greens but being an economics A'level student I already knew then that their economics didn't, and still don't, add up.
So in that essense to associate with a party that had grown out of disatisfied members of the Labour party perhaps there is some genetic make-up to my cousins and my political believes. However, I was off to England to escape, I never intended to return my 5 years back were accidental, from Northern Ireland and the system that I was already finding repressive. There were only three of the multiple societies I joined that first year that I stayed with throughout my three years at Poly (as it was then) the Christian Union, were with 8 years bible self exploration based experience I was deemed somewhat an elder statesman, the Lib Dems (to be) and the Athletics Club. One thing that none of my friends at Uni knew that one of the reasons I was glad to escape was to get space to wrestle my own inner turmoil about my sexuality in relation to everything else, but that wasn't to be resolved for many years yet.
Studying economics with my belief system my tutor worked out I was Christian in tutorial two and a Lib Dem in the sixth. I clearly wore both like a badge even then. Of course being on such a course also meant that a lot of my early politcal debating occured as much in tutorials as anywhere else. Although militant were strong in the Student Union I also took a lot of flak for standing up against them in union debates, even helping to run campaigns in the student magazine and in sabatical elections to break their almost monopoly on power, missing out by the narrowest of margins in one election. Good preparation for Central Belt Scotland.
My first election outside of stedent politics was a Lib Dem win in my council ward, the first political leaflets I saw that were meant for me not my parents was from my local Focus Team, little did I realise I'd deliver my body weight many times over in Foci et al: some have even had my name and picture on them, many more have contained my words. Out on the doorsteps I also learned to battle the Conservatives. By the time I'd left Kingston we'd yet to win the Westminster seats, but we were winning there having taken the council for the first time.
However, after months of being without work I used my last pennies to get home. Where for most of the five years I was there I worked in the civil service. It didn't seem right to be that politically active.
Only when I moved to Scotland did my political journey take off big style. With my ex down in London she suggested I get involved with the local party. I did, I don't think she guessed how much I would. Standing for the council elections in a former coalmining town in 2003 (a link to my uncle somewhat), then the aim to get elected. Standing for the General Election in 2005 and nominally the candidate for 2007, before personal circumstances intervened.
One thing that struck me about my Grandmother in Derry was that though she lived in a protestant enclave she couldn't be totally branded a Loyalist. When she could no more live in the terraced house that was home there was a Catholic family recently firebombed out. With no furniture and neither of her children needing hers see donated what she didn't need to them. It was so like how my father had brought me up, indeed in Lagan College the first integrated secondary school had been more established rather than a start up I'd probably have been sent there. Although if I recall they turned be turn when I suggested it, having been given free reign with my choices following recieving the top selection grade.
In fact that is the thing that struck me most. My parents let me and my brother come to our own decisions, he may have been the more rebellious one in his teens, but they let us think for ourselves. What we did music, sports, qualifications, where we went to Uni. Indeed I don't recall them ever openly talking to us about politics until after I first mentioned I was involved in the Lib Dems, then I found out they'd supported the Alliance Party. The fact that from parts of the same DNA have come Labour, Tory and Lib Dem suggests that we're all intelligent folk who have come to our own political home.
As a Lib Dem I obviously don't believe that your politics is in your DNA, I though though think that a lot of it come from your heart. In my heart I'm a natural Liberal and I'll often spurt off on my blog without checking party position, because I know what I feel to be the liberal response. It's why I enjoy being a Lib Dem and on this journey, we are allowed to think for ourselves, to make not follow the party line, it is a journey that forging Liberal Democracy will never end. There are always more debates to be had in the party, more battles to be won on the doorsteps with people who think they are born to vote only one of two ways. Oh and of course there is always that next walk of deliveries to be done.
So I say mine is a personal journey, maybe forged by my environment, but mainly a choice of my my head not a part of my blood.