Like mother, like son: Will your parents influence how you vote?

How is party political allegiance passed down the generations? Can children influence how their parents vote? And what does a clash of opinion do to our closest relationships? Jamie Merrill hears from both sides of a very personal debate

Thursday 08 April 2010 00:00 BST


Keith Lander, 62, works part-time for the Association of Interchurch Families and lives in Letchworth, Hertfordshire. Strongly influenced by his Christian faith, Keith, is a former Young Conservative. He has always voted Tory and will do so again in the election. After a career with the paint and plastics giant ICI, he believes in the importance of the free market and wealth creation, and has clashed with his son over the existence of global warming.

"I was a Young Conservative when I was my son's age, and I remember listening to Margaret Thatcher and Enoch Powell speak at conferences. It was stirring stuff. I'm less political now, but I'll almost certainly be voting Conservative in May.

My views are primarily guided by my Christianity – which I share with my son. I believe in free enterprise and free will, which God gave us. It should be up to us to choose how hard we work or if we give money to charity, rather than have our wealth extracted from us or be forced to do something. But I do believe in some sort of welfare state for the poorest in society. Unlike Richard, I didn't go to university – which I know is a breeding ground for socialism. I don't mean that in a negative manner but it is a place where people explore radical new ideas. Instead, I went straight from school into work for ICI, so I quickly understood the importance of business to generate wealth and improve everyone's lot in life.

Richard's political views have been influenced by his education and he has not been exposed to business. I'm not for one minute saying he doesn't have a strong work ethic, and I'm very proud of his achievement, but he's spent four years at university and now he works for a university. He's not creating wealth and that does worry me because, looking to the future, you need to have a firm base. You can engage in all sorts of charity, voluntary or environmental work when you're older, but if you start relying on the state from the outset you can't help other people very much. We also disagree over the environment. I abhor waste and I'm worried about resource depletion – his mother and I rarely fly any more. But unlike Ric, I'm just not sold on the science behind climate change. I goad him about this from time to time, and have been known to leave him challenging articles to see whether he has a reasoned argument to back up his beliefs."

Ric Lander, 24, lives in Edinburgh and works as Engagement and Outreach officer for Transition Edinburgh University, a project working to create a low-carbon campus. A campaigner and green activist, Ric says his politics are based on beliefs in global justice, socialism, environmentalism and on his Christian faith. He has struggled with his father's dismissal of climate change. He will be voting Green on 6 May.

"In a simplified, Facebook-snapshot way, I would describe my politics as 'internationalist' – because I tend to look at the whole world rather than just my backyard. I've always thought about politics in terms of words like welfare, environment, justice and equality. And they have provided me with a starting point which has led me off into anarchism, socialism and environmentalism. I was brought up in a Christian household and do share the same Christian values as my parents, but I interpret them in a different way. My faith talks to me on issues such as looking out for your fellow man, rather than my father's traditionalism.

Like my parents, I'm what you'd call an extra-curricular person. I get involved in the community, which is something I have to thank them for, but I've taken that further and believe we should change the way the world is run.

Growing up I had real struggles with my father over my views on climate change. I have two degrees in the subject, which he supported me through, but he won't accept my expertise and went through a period of leaving me any climate-change denying article he could find in the right-wing press. Ostensibly, he was leaving things he knew I had an interest in, but I found it difficult. He didn't understand that a belief in climate change is a core value for me, deeper than any party political interest.

It was demoralising, and made me less inclined to talk to him or go home to visit. But family is important to me and taking a step back, I'm willing to be challenged and to examine different opinions – my father taught me to do that."


Jo Thorne, 79, worked in a building society and lives near Hadleigh in Suffolk. A liberal in her youth, Jo (pictured far left) became a socialist and Labour Party activist after marrying her husband Vincent, an ardent left-winger who died four years ago. Living in Montreal and Massachusetts in the Sixties, she was exposed to the disparity of wealth between North America and Britain and became increasingly entrenched in her views. Although now disillusioned with politics and reluctant to vote, she fears a Conservative victory and will be voting Labour on 6 May.

"Looking back on it, politically I was influenced by my Aunt Jess. She was chairman of a Labour Party group. I saw her rarely, but she had a great influence on me.

When I was young I would have said I was liberal, but I couldn't be liberal once I met my husband, Vincent. He was a strong socialist. Our lives, and subsequently our children's lives, were determined by it. My children were obviously influenced by him. He was a professor of biology at universities including Cambridge and Harvard. I know that my oldest daughter Francis certainly feels she was very much influenced by us, because the house was always full of political discussion.

We had been living in Canada and America, and then moved to Glasgow in the early Sixties. Seeing the economic difference between the States and Scotland, you couldn't help but be a socialist. I campaigned for Labour in the 1964 by-election in Rutherglen, Glasgow. It was an absolute battle. People living in the tenements were not particularly political, but their lives were so hard.

At that point I joined the local Labour Party group, where they soon asked me to stand for parliament. I didn't think I possibly could, and they said: 'Oh you must. We'll talk to your husband.' In those days, Scottish men seemed to think they had great deal to say in women's decisions. Vincent said it was up to me. Anyway, we moved to Montreal, so that put paid to that.

Although I now feel reluctant to go and vote, I'm still desperately worried if it goes the other way, so no matter how old and decrepit they become, I'll vote Labour.

If that ghastly David Cameron gets in I'll probably have to leave the country. But it's all of our faults really – we don't care as much as we used to about other people. The world, as they say, has gone to pot."

Francis Flower, 57, helps run a community shop and lives outside of Ipswich, Suffolk. Francis traces her strong left-wing views to her socialist parents, who she believes instilled in her a deep sense of community. Although she shares their political allegiances she often clashed with them over her views, arguing with her late father as he became disillusioned with New Labour. Now, despite sharing some of her late father's unease about the party's direction, she'll be voting Labour.

"I was influenced by my parents from a young age: politics was always talked about at home, both with a big 'P' and a little 'p'. We were living in Massachusetts during the Kennedy election, and I was very aware of it, although I would only have been nine or 10. I was probably influenced more by my father's political values, although my mother was more politically active.

From him, I've always thought that society has a duty to look after those who are not able to look after themselves – we need to do as much as we possibly can to eradicate inequality. And there is inequality; if you are educated and comfortably off, it's easy not to see it. Like both my parents, I've always voted Labour. I would find it difficult not to. I'm an emotional socialist really. It's a bit of a struggle at the moment – I am, like many people, disillusioned with the current Government. But my values, my politics, have stayed the same.

I've always been involved in community work: I've been a school governor; worked and volunteered for the Citizens Advice Bureau; and now I help run a community shop.

My father became disillusioned with New Labour before I did. He became much more didactic and entrenched the older he got. I would end up arguing with him. I was probably over-respectful to his views when I was younger, and that began to change.

I have 22-year-old twins. My son Joe has a degree in politics, but my daughter Ellie has never voted, she's not at all political. Maybe being twins is part of it – it's an oppositional opinion – or it might be a rejection of my values. I'd say I've been less forceful than my father in terms of shaping their views, and I think their view of me is perhaps more balanced because of that."

Lib Dem/Lib Dem

Marion Gettleson, 63, owns an antique shop on Portobello Road and lives in Hillingdon, north-west London. A Conservative as a young adult, Marion moved to the left as she witnessed, as she saw it, London's increasing inequality. Appalled by David Cameron's Conservatism, which she sees as selfish, and by "the betrayal of the working classes" by Labour, she'll be voting Liberal Democrat.

"I was born just after the Second World War, when Churchill was almost a God, so of course I voted Conservative. Today I'm appalled by the overt selfishness inherent in Conservatism and the failure of the so-called Labour Party to do anything for the working poor. Through my son Mark I've come to see the Liberal Democrats as the party of the people and for the people, rather than of themselves and for themselves.

It's odd, because I don't come from a tremendously political background – although my father did fight in the Battle of Cable Street against Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts. Rather, my life straddles a world on Portobello Road where I see the wealthy cheek-by-jowl with those who have very little. My shop is only a few hundred metres away from two of the poorest council wards in the country. It's like the 19th century all over again, and Mark was exposed to this as he grew up.

But as a parent, I never really thought about how I'd like Mark to grow up politically. My idea of parenting was to give him every opportunity but not to try and mould him. From this, he was politically inquisitive and found the Liberal Democrats of his own volition.

As Mark was growing up, we always had newspapers in the house, listened to Radio 4 and watched programmes like Question Time. This must have had an enormous influence on him, giving him a good view of what was going on in the world. But it wasn't something I rammed down this throat, and his father and I were never party-political. In fact it has been Mark who has influenced us, managing to persuade his dad to stand as a local councillor and helping me on the Save Portobello Market campaign, which I'm active in. We really are the proudest parents on the face of the planet."

Mark Gettleson, 25, is campaign manager for the Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes and lives in Bermondsey, south-east London. A Liberal Democrat since he was 14, Mark is far more partisan than either of his parents, and encouraged them to become involved in party politics as he was growing up. As a Jewish gay man, he has benefited from his open-minded upbringing and inherited his mother's liberal moral system. He will be voting Liberal Democrat in the general election, and intends to stand as a local councillor in Bermondsey.

"From an early age I always thought it was unfair how some people, like me, were born into a comfortable life while others were born into desperate circumstances. And I think my entire politics is born out of that idea that people are born different – whether in opportunity, ethnicity or sexuality – and that intolerance and inequality are profoundly connected.

Through the location of my mother's shop near some of the poorest areas of the capital, I was exposed to two different Londons: one rich, one poor. And my own identity, both as a gay man and a Jew, allowed me to very easily imagine myself in someone else's shoes. I think that is something my parents encouraged in me – they didn't want me to cast people aside because of who they were, what they look liked or how much money they had.

I joined the Liberal Democrats aged 14 and marched against the Iraq War, but my parents weren't political. I was part of a new campaigning generation, while my mum expressed her views by shouting at Question Time on the television.

While both my parents shared my liberal, community-based moral system, I think it took my influence to engage them in politics. When I was 16, I managed to convince my father to stand for election as a Liberal Democrat councillor in our local ward, and he won. And then, because both dad and I were formally involved in politics, mum's interest grew and she received a formal political education from me. Until that point we'd never talked about politics with a big 'P' as a family.

Now she's very politically active. She calls me up for advice quite often, which is fantastic. We were always very close but this gives us an area of interest in common."


Cheryl Rock, 59, is a retired local government official and lives just outside Stafford in the Midlands. Not a believer in discussing politics in the home, Cheryl has never been interested in party politics and doesn't believe she influenced her son Michael's strong political allegiance. Nonetheless she has always voted and tried to make him understand the importance of self-improvement and aspiration. She'll be voting Tory on 6 May.

"I'm not political at all and neither is my husband. Michael's passion for politics is something he has developed since leaving home. His father and I have always voted, but I don't remember either of us lecturing or talking to Michael about it as he was growing up. We just didn't have big political discussions at home. I do remember my mother being an influence on me. She was a strong character and a Conservative. But I don't think either my husband or I affected Michael in that way.

In fact I don't know if we ever made any political influence on him at all; we just got on with life and raising our children. But he was always taught to be considerate in other ways, and active in the community. So I hope we influenced his caring attitude to life, even if not in a political sense. Neither I nor my husband went to university, and Michael has seen his father work his way up from tea-boy to manager. So he has seen us work to improve ourselves, and has gone on to become the first member of our family to make it to university. Perhaps that's why he identifies with the Conservative Party – which he always describes as the party of aspiration.

My eldest daughter couldn't be more different politically from Michael, but we've never argued. I have a rule that we won't discuss politics at the dinner table. It might sound old-fashioned, but we put family above politics. We don't do cross words, so if they want to discuss politics they have to take it down the pub."

Michael Rock, 31, is an IT project manager and lives in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. The son of parents who both worked in local government, Michael was the first of his family to reach university, where he became involved in student politics. Now the national chairman of Conservative Future, the youth wing of the party, he sees the Tories as the party of aspiration and will be voting Conservative.

"Despite my strong Conservative views, my parents weren't party-political or particularly engaged. I was heavily influenced by growing up in an industrial part of the Midlands during the Thatcher years. I saw my family becoming wealthier and feeling better-off, and it was clear to me that socialism didn't work – we didn't want to go back to the dark days of the 1970s.

My family wasn't well-off but were part of what I'd call the aspiring classes. My parents didn't drill any party persuasion into me, but made it clear, in a very positive sense, that you could strive to improve your lot in life. They encouraged me to go out and work for myself from an early age, because they wanted me to understand self-worth and supporting myself. Growing up, my mother never discussed politics with me – she couldn't understand why I was interested in programmes like Spitting Image – but dad still worried about the spectre of union chaos and class war from the 1970s. In fact I still remember him talking about driving for hours just to find a loaf of bread during the three-day week. I think the 1970s really affected my parents in that way, while the 1980s were a better time. This was never really discussed at home, but its practical implications were all too obvious to me."

Additional reporting by Holly Williams

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