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UK Politics

And you thought your family politics were bad... what’s it like to be the child of a politician?

It can inspire you to follow in your parents’ footsteps – or embarrass you to death, discovers Simon Usborne

Glenda Jackson’s halo-snatching  contribution to last week’s Thatcher tributes in the Commons inspired outrage on the right (“Dementedly over the top... Potty to the power of ten,” the Daily Mail) and a tongue-in-cheek response from the actor-turned-MP’s long-suffering son.

“A friend told me it’s the duty of parents to embarrass their children,” Dan Hodges wrote in the Telegraph on Friday. “And when the children are grown, and the threat of an early bedtime and frozen pocket money is no longer available, public humiliation is the only weapon left in the armoury.”

But the writer, who chose journalism over politics (he has previously worked for the  Labour party and the GMB trade union), should be grateful, Oscar-winning nude scenes notwithstanding, that his mother’s switch to the House came in his adulthood. Because family politics are rarely as fraught when the power to embarrass comes with the moral virtue and man-hours demanded by public office.

Margaret Thatcher’s parenting has been picked over in the past week like every other aspect of her uncompromising life. “Home is where you go when you have nowhere else to go,” the Iron Mother once told an interviewer. Tough words for Carol and Mark. Jonathan Aitken told The Times last week that Carol had once shouted: “Lady Thatcher, you were a great Prime Minister but you are an awful mother.” Lady Thatcher..?

Sometimes, the lure of office is enough to draw political children along the same path, and so dynasties are born. The teenage son of Jack Straw was the subject of intense media scrutiny when he was cautioned in 1997 for offering to sell cannabis to a Daily Mirror reporter. But it didn’t put him off for long. Now in his 30s, Will Straw is rumoured to be running for Labour candidacy in Lancashire.

One can only imagine the dinner chat at the Miliband residence, meanwhile, where Ralph, a leading Marxist thinker, unwittingly raised sons who would later fight to lead a party he had fiercely criticised (Miliband  senior’s Labour takedowns persuaded Paul Foot, the socialist son of a Labour peer and nephew of two Labour MPs, not to join the family business. He, too, became a journalist).

The Goldsmiths and Johnsons can similarly draw political family trees spanning two generations. Those that can claim more are rarer. The Salisbury clan boasted almost enough high-ranking politicians to form its own cross-generational cabinet. Hilary  Benn, son of Tony, meanwhile, is a fourth-generation MP and the third Benn to have served in a cabinet.

He has called his father an inspiration but moved further to the political centre as a New Labour moderniser, making a point in response to repeated questions about familial influence to describe himself as “a Benn not a Bennite”.

For some the scars of a political upbringing can last a lifetime. Giles Wilson, son of Harold, reportedly had a difficult relationship with father, who was twice Prime Minister. After spells as a teacher punctuated by some time on a remote kibbutz in Israel (where he had to be given a security detail after the IRA threatened to kidnap him), he retreated to Devon and got a job as a train driver, revisiting a  childhood love of railways.