You have to stand up for your political beliefs – even if it means alienating your family

Isn’t it better to celebrate a relative’s individuality than insist they blindly follow your own ideology?


By all accounts, 85-year-old Violet Baker was typical of the generation which had lived through the Second World War and rationing, and which abhorred waste and spending money unnecessarily. Frugality was her watchword: she once accused her neighbour and carer Malcolm Baker (apparently no relation) of stealing 2p after he had done her weekly shop. Mrs Baker, a widow, would be furious with her kind neighbour if he spent more than £10 on her weekly groceries.

Mrs Baker cut her coat according to her cloth, and her coat was austere. So it is little surprise that, before she died in April last year, she decided to leave the vast amount of her estate, £769,000, to the political party of austerity – the Conservatives. David Cameron must be delighted. But her Labour-supporting relatives are not. Mr Baker, the neighbour, got £2,000, but her family did not get a penny.

“Wicked” was how Mrs Baker’s sister-in-law, Elsie Clark, described this reclusive elderly lady, perhaps rather ungenerously. It seems that Ms Clark was more annoyed that Mrs Baker had given her money to the Conservatives, and not Labour, than that she had snubbed her family. The money had been saved up by Mrs Baker’s equally frugal husband Raymond, and Ms Clark, who is Raymond’s sister, said: “All that money was left to her and she didn’t want any of us to get our hands on it. My family was staunch Labour. Our dad was very strict about it. She wouldn’t go out to vote in an election.”

If blood is thicker than water, then political affiliations are thicker than blood. And when those ties are broken, it causes rifts and rows. Liz Truss, the Conservative MP, has spoken of how her Labour-supporting father refused to campaign for her election to Parliament and has still not congratulated her on becoming a minister, 18 months on.

Ukip’s candidate for today’s Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election, John Bickley, says his father was so staunchly left-wing that if you cut him open the word “Labour” would be written all the way through. Ed Miliband has spoken of robust discussions over politics with his Marxist father Ralph when he was growing up – although there was never any rift.

It is easy to see how, with our own children, if we believe we are teaching them everything we know, it can be hurtful if our colour of politics is shunned in favour of a different hue. But with families, isn’t it better to celebrate a relative’s individuality than insist they blindly follow your own ideology? Tribal politics can bring families and communities together, but it is also politics at its most unattractive – unthinking, dogmatic and slavish.

Is it only a coincidence that, in the cases of Mrs Baker, Mr Bickley and Ms Truss, the affronted or shunned relatives are all Labour? The party that Mr Miliband leads may now be open and celebratory, as he has pledged, but the tribalism of some of its supporters, represented by Ms Clark’s comments, hark back to an older version of Labour where to express individualism or – heaven forbid! – talk of voting for another party was met with ostracism.

It is true that Mrs Baker does not sound like the most nurturing and warm-spirited of elderly ladies. But she repaid the kindness of her neighbour with a small bequest. And if she was never really that political, her decision to donate to the Conservatives – the largest ever left in a will to a political party – is not the act of a partisan person but of someone who clearly saw something of herself in the Tories’ hard line on paying down the national debt.

In life, I imagine she became rather tired of her in-laws. Their branding of her as “wicked” shows that they didn’t deserve the money anyway. I quite admire that, in death, she has had the last laugh.

Don’t know your Parthenon from your Pantheon, George?

With the bubbles of controversy over Scarlett Johansson’s SodaStream and Israel row barely subsided, another Hollywood film star has entered dangerous diplomatic waters. George Clooney, who is on a promotional tour of Europe for his new film Monuments Men, has called for the British Museum to give the Elgin Marbles back to Greece. His co-star Bill Murray backed him, saying the Marbles had had a “very nice stay here” but needed to be returned.

Clooney and Murray make a perfectly good point, but they both seem to have become seriously stuck in method acting mode; their new film is about a group of soldiers who rescue looted artwork from the Nazis. Of course, the debate over the Elgin Marbles is more nuanced than the plot of Monuments Men – the Marbles were originally taken from Greece for their own protection and are on display to the general public, not locked in a Nazi mansion. Perhaps if Clooney could pronounce the Parthenon correctly – he said Pantheon – then we could take him more seriously as an art historian?

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