Setting standards

How and when do we make a decision to follow a particular political ideology?

Is it actually a political decision or is it something we grow into?

Some might think I was born in a privileged position. My father, as a pharmacist, was considered to be professional rather than trade and although he managed shops for others when I was born it was not too long before he had his own business.

Added to this I attended a grammar school and was expected by some to go on to university.

Then came the twist.

I rebelled.

Not an uncommon happening in the 1960s with the hippy movement and the “summers of love”, when the children of the middle class turned on their parents and adopted the ideals of socialism and muddled it up with free love.

I didn’t rebel against my parents. I initially adopted the principles they appeared to live their lives by.

My mother and father never really talked about politics at home. We did talk about almost everything else. In fact mealtimes could get quite heated – not acrimonious, just heated as each tried to support their point of view.

Later in life I was surprised to find people who shied away completely from this form of discussion, seeing it as argument.

It was more like democratic socialism in that we all were allowed to put our point of view and nobody actually “lost”.

Also my father sometimes talked about his wartime service as a Sgt. Dispenser in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

The majority of this service was in the Middle East, serving at base hospitals in Khartoum and near Tel Aviv and Suez.

He also spent time on troop ships going from Durban to Suze and across to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India.

He rarely talked about the serious side of war but occasionally he did talk of the sights he saw which really moved him.

One such was seeing the caste system in India and seeing people living in the gutters while others lived the good life and never gave a thought to the poor. He was always very emotional about this and blamed himself for not being able to do anything.

His attitude to the troops he dealt with, including the people he worked with, was also egalitarian. He did not care who they were, what they had been before the war, or even what colour, religion or sex they were.

As he said: “We carried troops from all over, often taking them up to join the desert fighting. We had Australians, Indians, Boers, Kiwis and African troops and at the end of the day they were all the same to me. The Boer and the Kenyan were treated the same. If they were sick they got medicine.”

With that sort of attitude when I was growing up it was not surprising I did not differentiate between people on the basis of their colour or their creed.

Yet my socialist beliefs, which were mainly based on everyone doing their bit and if they were not capable then others would do it for them, may have been passed on to me by two people I met when I was really too young to know better.

We were living in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, and Dad was managing a chemist shop.

I was still a toddler and sometimes Mum would take me shopping and we would stop at the shop to see Dad.

One day he had two customers in, a man and a woman, who were chatting away to him as though they were old friends.

When my father introduced my mother to them and then myself they both smiled and the man ruffled my hair and said: “What a lively lad. Let’s hope he grows up to be a socialist eh?”

Of course, at the time, I had no real idea of what he said, just that they had smiled, which was always a good sign, and the man had ruffled my hair.

It was years later that my father told me who they were. They were MPs who lived on a farm just outside Chesham because it made it easy to get into London when Parliament was sitting.

The man was Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan and the woman was his wife and fellow MP Jennie Lee.

To me nowadays they are two of the finest Labour MPs of the 20th century. Both were part of the great Labour victory of 1945 and served with Clement Attlee during the time the NHS was created.

Meeting the Queen or Prince Philip after that would have been an anti-climax.

My full enlightenment to politics was still to come but that was an auspicious start.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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