RECENTLY, a fellow journalist (Susanna Rustin at the Guardian) was researching a piece about Town and Parish Councils, and decided to give me a ring.
‘Where do you stand, politically?’ she asked, as I gave her the low-down on Canvey Island’s Town Council.
To my utter surprise I replied: ‘Here? Conservative.’ And then, as time appeared to stop around me, I found myself trying to justify what I had said.
Now, I have always thought of myself as a Socialist. As an idealistic student I was a member of the Young Communist League and quoted Marx in many of my conversations with peers. That lasted a couple of years until I came into contact with some KGB recruiters at a local meeting in Southend – to which I rebelled and joined the Army.
During those first years my politics disintegrated as my eyes were opened to the real world around me, and I became aware how naive Marx and I had been. I had seen his ideal of: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,’ as true Christianity in practise; but what I found was that the World rotated around human greed.
Dodging the GRU and taking covert photographs in East Berlin, in the early 70s, allowed me to appreciate just how little some citizens were regarded by their politicians – and when I was posted to Northern Ireland it was with the hope that I might be a part of making the UK a better place.
I was still naive.
I flew-out for Internment Day; spent the rest of that year helping to replenish the intelligence that had been lost from the B-Specials’ disbandment; shook Willie Whitelaw’s cold, damp hand as he congratulated the Army on having achieved their objective of reinstating peace throughout Belfast by Christmas – and cried the next month when Stormont was disbanded and Whitelaw released all the terrorists that many had given their lives to capture.
It was not just the East that had so little regard for its citizens or its forces.
In considering my reply to Susanna, it seems I have still found no political home. My votes over the years have covered all the main parties, with some abstentions; but I still have little respect for politicians in general.
I have great hopes for the Coalition; but then I also gave my support to Thatcher and Blair – so it is hardly a recommendation. And, as the daily news informs us that the new government’s immigration cap is being undermined by business; that the overhaul of Britain’s Housing Benefit is to be postponed; and that it is now preparing to cut the limit for terrorism suspects to be held before charge to 14 days; I have a distinct feeling of déjà vu…