TALKING TO DAD ON ELECTION DAY

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Harold Macmillan and Robert Blake feasting!

Elections – how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Well, maybe not quite so much now as at the very beginning but basically it would be true to say that I do love an election. This has very little to do with an innate love of politics. I am as likely as the next person to be cynical and depressed about the state of the nation. My love of elections has more to do with talking to my father. He died in 2003 but, as we all know, we do not stop talking to our parents simply because they’re dead.

He was the politics don at Christ Church College Oxford for many years and that is a college with a very proud political heritage. Of the twenty-six prime ministers produced by Oxford thirteen came from Christ Church. He taught people who went on to be politicians and political journalists. He wrote books on politicians. His first book was on Bonar Law – The Unknown Prime Minister. He then edited the volume of Anthony Eden’s diaries that covered Suez. Next came a hugely well received biography of Disraeli followed by A History of the Conservative Party from Peel to Thatcher. So politics  was what he did for a living. When he was younger there had been the suggestion that he become an MP. However my mother did not think this would suit his personality or perhaps she did not fancy being an MPs wife. Sensible woman!

Disraeli by Robert Blake

Disraeli by Robert Blake

My father was a very nice man and he was also viscerally conservative. He had considerable charm and generosity along with a wry sense of humour but small talk was not really his thing. Like many experts in their field he was used to people asking him questions and then answering. He lectured for a living, he wrote articles for papers and he appeared on radio and TV. So one way to connect with him was to ask him political questions. He would talk. I would listen. Some of it went in. It wasn’t necessarily that I was always interested exactly but I think I realised from a very young age that it was a way to engage his attention. So if that involved asking him about the single transferable vote when he was Chairman of a Hansard Committee on Electoral Reform so be it.

A plate of Disraeli, Gladstone and Salisbury advertising champagne!

A plate of Disraeli, Gladstone and Salisbury advertising Moet et Chandon champagne!

My childhood was spent surrounded by politicians, both real and antique. My mother was not a woman to pass an antique shop without going in and my father’s interests became hers. Plates, cups, pressed glass were all covered in politicians. I knew what Disraeli looked like from a young age because there he was hanging on the wall and on the cover of my father’s book. I also knew that if I’d been a boy I would have been called Benjamin after him. That focuses the mind. I went on to meet all kinds of politicians in the flesh: Alec Douglas-Home appeared at the back door one day like a very charming wraith; Ted Heath had a huge amount of medals across his chest and a very plummy voice. Later, as PM, his arrival was preceded by sniffer dogs and the kind of red telephone that Almodovar would have approved of. My mother had flu during that visit and was, if not A Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a woman who could not care less if the cake forks had gone missing. ‘Cake forks?’ she said grimly from her sick bed. ‘He can use his fingers.’ Harold Macmillan, very elderly and very handsome, declined to watch himself on television but stayed talking to my mother. Michael Foot was a rarity in being a Labour politician but he had a fascination with Disraeli so he and my father got on like a house on fire, the archetypal odd-couple.

‘SUCCESS IS THE ABILITY TO GO FROM FAILURE TO FAILURE WITHOUT LOSING YOUR ENTHUSIASM.’

WINSTON CHURCHILL

So Dad loved elections. He only missed one campaign in its entirety and that was the first one Thatcher won in 1979. He’d been offered a place to write abroad and we flew out of the country on the day the election was announced and the pilot told the passengers the result on the plane as we flew back. As I remember it, the whole plane burst into applause. Ignorance was bliss. I was about fifteen at the time and I remember being pleased that my father had cheered up. While we were away he was supposed to be writing a book, Disraeli’s Grand Tour, and I suppose some writing was done but he did also exhibit all the signs of a man wishing he was somewhere else. He was not a man who travelled very well at the best of times. In the mornings there would a feverish search for English newspaper and in the evenings he became rather morose. Cut off from friends, London life and club gossip he pined to be back in the centre of things. The company of the BBC World Service, me and my mother was little compensation. As soon as we arrived back in England, he was a man transformed.

‘ONE SECRET OF SUCCESS IN LIFE IS FOR A MAN TO BE READY FOR HIS OPPORTUNITY WHEN IT COMES.’

BEMJAMIN DISRAELI

So on May 7th when I use that stubby pencil to vote I will be missing my father. And I will be reminding myself that there was a time before google when there were experts who could access extraordinary amounts of information not at the press of a button but from their own elegant and incisive minds. I will also remember fondly the short period of time (Iraq war onwards) when our political views coincided (although for entirely different reason) in a hatred of Tony Blair.

Will I stay up? Usually I intend to but then get driven to sleep by pure boredom and irritation around 2 o’clock. However over the next few days I will be having many conversations with my Dad.

  • Do you like Cameron or do you think he’s just a PR man at heart?
  • What coalition would you prefer? Tory-Lib, Lab-SNP, Tory minority, Labour minority etc…etc…
  • Do you think the Tories will vote tactically in Sheffield to keep Clegg in?
  • If Clegg and Danny Alexander lose their seats then who negotiates a coalition?
  • Can you really imagine the blond buffoon as PM? You can’t can you? Please tell me you can’t.
  • Do you think after another hung parliament we’ll finally get some electoral reform?

I wonder what he’ll reply?

What do/did you talk to your Dad about?

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8 thoughts on “TALKING TO DAD ON ELECTION DAY

  1. I saw that picture and I thought, “That’s Harold MacMillan – what’s he got to do with your Dad…?” Little realising your Dad was next to him! WOW! How impressive a career! My Dad would have loved to have picked his brain! He’s the same – no small talk (but really bad, to the point of rudeness!) He has three interests – farming (his job), politics, and history. He’s what you’d call an autodidact, as he left school at 14 – such a waste – as he was needed on the family farm. But he collects all sorts of books, some rather valuable on obscure subjects like the history of stalking (I know!) His real desire was for a set of Encyclopaedias Britannica. He saw in the local free paper a family who’d moved to Mull (where my parents live) were giving away a five year old set for nothing as they didn’t have space, and dashed to the phone to be the first to get them. However, he wouldn’t take them for nothing, and to this year – 20 years later – every Christmas he takes them in a butchered lamb – pretty much everyone on the island loves to get local meat. He still has them close to his chair and picks them up randomly. He finds Google amazing, but too hard to get to grips with – he’s too impatient! As for this election – for once I think Scotland will carry a huge amount of weight. The LibDems will more or less be wiped out here; the Tories may lose their one seat. Our constituency – Argyll & Bute – is currently LibDem but I think will.lose it to the SNP. I wasn’t keen on the SNP – and I definitely don’t want to break up the Union, as I’m very firmly British – but I recently met Alex Salmond and was very impressed. And Nicola Sturgeon is such a talented politician, and a great example to young women that you can achieve anything (as I’m forever reminding my daughter!) I think, as has been said, Labour have taken Scotland for granted for too long, but I hope we get a Lab/SNP coalition. I despise Cameron and Osbourne. They’ve never had to really live a normal life (although you could say that about too many politicians!) I’m sure your Dad will be keeping an eye on things, with the great and the good. (And I agree MacMillan was v handsome, but Eden pipped him to the post!) Thanks for your lovely post, and allowing me to ramble on (incidentally, my Dad’s now 72, and still runs his 3000 acre farm, with some help from my sister and my son – and Mum on the paperwork. He couldn’t stop – as it’s his life!)

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    • Thank so much for your comment. Your Dad sounds amazing! Iona is one of my favourite places on earth and I first visited it with my parents when I was quite little. A colleague of my father’s had retired to Mull with his partner and they ran a hotel there for a while. I remember getting completely soaked on the trip back from Staffa. I would definitely be asking Dad about the SNP – an absolute game-changer. Eden I agree incredibly good looking – Dad got drafted in to help with his memoirs because Eden kept chewing up his assistants. My Dad wasn’t very chewable! May your Dad continue to run his farm for many many more years to come.

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  2. Thank you Vicky – that means a lot! A school friend of mine does boat trips to Staffa, his company is Turus Mara but you can also go from Iona. I rather think my Dad would have enjoyed hearing political anecdotes from your father – they sound quite similar within their own occupations! My Dad was beating pheasant once for Harold MacMillan; he was quite young, and he gave all the lads a fiver which was a huge amount back then! So many of the old guard used to shoot – properly, not with all the latest Barbour jackets and Hunters. They made them tougher in those days I think! I’ll be staying up fairly late tonight just to get the general picture but I don’t know how long that will take – it’ll be a strange one. And I’m sure your Dad would agree there’s far too much emphasis on looks and image, and PR/spin. It should be down to the best man for the job. I think Ed would be a good PM but he isn’t a good campaigner. Btw, before going back into education my daughter qualified at a posh hairdresser in Glasgow – she used to wash and sometimes blow dry Nicola Sturgeon’s hair – and she never forgot to tip Gemma generously, despite her being the shampoo girl!

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    • I’ve got no problem with Miliband either. Given that about 80% of the press is Tory I think he’s done pretty well. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they tip so that brings Macmillan and Nicola Sturgeon out in a very good light! I hope you enjoy the evening. I think it’s going to be an extraordinary one for Scotland.

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  3. It must have been fascinating to have those conversations with your father and to meet all those intriguing people. I wonder what he would have made of the actual result. My dad wasn’t much of a talker, but I still think about him a lot, if not talk to him!

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    • Thanks, Andrea. I think Dad would have been amazed at the result but also cautious. Cameron’s been able to rely on a large majority via the Lib Dems now he’s going to have to rely on his own party. Look what happened with John Major when he had a small majority. And then there’s a European Referendum coming up and the question of what to do about Scotland etc … etc… It looks like a stunning victory but I think things could unravel pretty quickly.

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  4. I have got to have the Churchill quote up on my studio wall!!
    A brilliant post, as ever, Victoria. It made me wonder whether if your father had had a son, whether there would have been pressure for him to be a politician. Fabulous photo of him, BTW.
    I am reminded of my father’s passion when I teach my art history lessons on the Renaissance. It brings back memories of standing in front of Brunelleschi’s Ospedale degli Innocenti and my father telling us that we will never see anything as beautiful as that.
    I hope they are looking down from their respective clouds and enjoying how their passions continue …

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    • It’s a great quote isn’t it – very heartening! I love the photo of him. He looks so damned happy! I loved the post you did about your Dad and Brunelleschi and same as you hope they both enjoy out development as writer and artist.

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