My mother nursed, my father was a tool maker and I went to grammar school. 

There are those that may think, given repeated speeches and constant media plugging, that would be a gateway to socialism, but I contend that would be the few and not the many. Others might think it a gateway to representation. That I can understand. But my life’s work in representation lies in advocacy. As a nurse, advocacy for patients and carers is our profession’s primary responsibility. Indeed it’s enshrined in our code of conduct. A natural step therefore for me was representation, but mine was mainly the unpaid or low paid route, through my union, certainly not in the hundreds of pounds an hour plus extras of the higher echelons of the legal profession.

My socialism is who I am. It’s my identity, shaped by my life experience, the shared life experience of so many others, my critical thinking about human history, my upbringing and my education. An education that enabled me to analyse. An education that I gained not through my years at grammar school but despite it, for it was our trades union movement that made our education possible and my union that took me through higher education.

I’ve knocked thousands of doors for the Labour Party led by John Smith, Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair, Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn and heard many people on those doorsteps say they were born Labour. By that they mean born into a family where voting Labour was what they did. That was not the case for me. I was born into a family that was not only political party diverse but religiously and nationally diverse. But they shared in common generational poverty. My maternal grandparents were raised in the workhouse. My gran born in the workhouse never knew who her father was. My grandfather, abandoned there, didn’t even know who his mother was. Given that entry to life, most would assume that they too would be born labour. They weren’t; when they eventually were ‘given’ the right to vote, they were conservative! On the other side Dad’s family were Irish catholic migrants, staunch Labour supporters who would only allow the Daily Mirror to enter their home. 

So neither party politics nor religion united us. But it never divided us either. Mum’s Anglican faith upbringing and Dad’s Roman Catholicism was never a subject of argument and nor were the diverse political party positions. We as six siblings were raised in a family where difference was simply an accepted part of who we were. 

As a child I was constantly engaged in activities that an adult would describe as community organising. At age nine my friends and I organised our first street carnival. Decorated go- karts, prams, bikes and roller skates were followed by garden fetes, carol singing, sponsored walks and garage sales to raise funds for whichever Blue Peter campaign was current, for PDSA or for tragedy appeals. And so began the oft repeated expression from my family and friends: ‘Oh no, what have we got to do now?’ But, despite that initial reaction, the instant thought of ‘can’t we just play monopoly’, I found children, young adults and grown-ups shared a common desire to act to help others less fortunate than themselves.

So I was born, not a Labour voter but with an urge to do right by others. I’m certain that came from a profound family value, a principle of sharing. An issue of prime importance to my family and a key aspect of our family learning. My brothers and I would be given on very special days a Mars bar to share. This involved many hours of debate as to its division. Rulers, spirit levels and many household implements were engaged in ensuring no one section was larger than another. Sharing is indeed a simple metaphor for social justice and a principle tenet of my socialism. I fail to understand why the few, who have more money than they can ever possibly spend, are not willing to share what they have and in fact crave more and more of it. My conservative grandparents rationale, the working class rationale of trickle down –  ‘What you’ve never had you never miss’ and ‘If they are alright we’ll be alright’ never, ever made sense to me. The world is unfair. It’s unfair in every culture & society in the world and socialism is in my book the only way that can be changed. So many opportunities have existed to redistribute wealth and make the world and all the lives in it more even, fair and equitable, all lost. It’s quite obvious that the refusal to share is the driver of structure and culture. And it’s not just money.  It’s power that those who hold it intend to hold onto. Realisation of democracy in the decision making of institutions and government is a threat to that power. Never was that made more obvious in current history than the deliberate and systematic demonisation of socialist Labour members in the Jeremy Corbyn years. 

In those few years socialism was no longer a ‘dirty word’ but a subject that could be and was discussed, printed on leaflets, worn on badges, sung about, painted and proudly displayed for all to see. The vision of a society that shared and cared, a government that would invest in people not just the stocks and shareholders was taking hold. The deliberately constructed labels placed on socialists were beginning to shatter under the growing movement of those wanting not more but fairer sharing. 

Take away the labels and underneath you will find that actually when socialism is fairly explained it is popular. Evidence after evidence exists to prove that. Conversation after conversation, studies of public opinion demonstrate, time after time, that people want free health care, publicly-owned mail, rail and energy, fair pay for a fair day’s work, equal education and a clean environment. Services that run for people not profit. 

But those who hold power and wealth are not going to give it up easily. For each and every social advance that the working class campaigns for, there is always a backlash. Examine history and you will find it time and time again. Preposterous ideas that seek to destroy advancement. The belief that working classes could not be given the vote because they were not experienced enough to use it hid a fear of their voices being heard and resulting in change in the power base. They were good enough to go off to fight in World War I but not to have a vote! They did that, they fought because they truly believed it was ‘the war to end all wars’. The world of course has not been free of wars, indeed anyone recently serving in military personnel will tell you they have fought in more conflicts than anyone who served in both World Wars. Nothing impacts upon poverty and inequality more than war. The Israeli war on Gaza lays that bare for all to see. Whilst children die as collateral damage, the arms trade gets richer and richer and the world gets divided by which side they think are the heroes. 

For me Tony Benn will always be a hero of the working class, one of the world’s greatest champions of democracy. His five questions act as a tool to analyse power structures. Those questions should be asked by politicians every day, not just of the structures of power but of themselves. 

Forgive my temerity but I’d like to add another. Our sixth question should be – ‘who stands to gain?’. If we ask this question of each political statement and every backlash against socialist ideas and principles we deconstruct the PR and the ridiculous claims. 

No one knows who said the oft used words ‘in a world where you can be anything you want to be, chose kindness’. Working class children and adults cannot be anything they want to be because wealth and power is unfairly distributed.

If we tell our stories, ensure the life experiences of those socialists who went before us, their struggles, their achievements are not lost but part of the dynamic growth of decent society. Our history shows us that socialism is important, it matters, it makes a difference. It’s why socialism is hated and fought against by some. It’s why our struggle must continue. It’s why we must always deconstruct power. If we do not understand where it lies and why it lies there, we become what politicians want us to be. And that includes yearning to belong to another class rather than be labelled and othered. 

For the working class worldwide little other than socialism has made a difference. Without it and a few random acts of ‘charitable kindness’, living will regress and return to the appalling standards of my grandparents and your grandparents. 


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