As a proud champagne socialist, I know that having money doesn’t have to stop you believing in equality

We all do what we can under the system we live under. My words and action are not insincere just because I have a desirable postcode to go back to and a quality bottle of shiraz (by that I mean worth £6.50)

Shaparak Khorsandi
Friday 02 November 2018 13:10
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Like Jeremy Corbyn, I can’t bring myself to send my child to private school
Like Jeremy Corbyn, I can’t bring myself to send my child to private school

At a party last week I was asked if I was a “champagne socialist” despite the fact that I was clearly holding a banana daiquiri. This pejorative term is designed to attack and denigrate those who publicly champion socialism yet don’t necessarily look at the price of an avocado before they put it into their basket.

In other words, we have enjoyed the benefits of capitalism, we work it but, dammit, we still don’t want to see people sleeping on the streets; or parents forced go to a food bank to feed their children. We still protest, us champagne socialists, we still believe in the welfare state.

I was raised by a proper socialist. No champagne in sight, just cheap blended whisky (but, oddly, only ever the finest Russian vodka). My father is a poet of the Persian language. In west London. Not exactly a great demand for that in Shepherd’s Bush. From early childhood I became an expert on seeing off bailiffs in our rented flat with a broken kitchen window. The carpet was so old that we had to always wear slippers otherwise the soles of our feet went grey. At school I was a “tramp” and a “gypo” because my clothes were hand-me-downs from my big brother. Ballet is tricky in football shoes but I managed.

No violin music is needed while reading this column because I am exaggerating a bit for Dickensian effect: in the Seventies we first lived in Notting Hill. Then we moved to Ealing, hardly Victorian squalor there – there were the best of times and worst of times but even then we always could afford a party. Our house was always filled with exuberance and friends. Still, my parents did not prize dough. Cash in and of itself was never a worthy objective.

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In my teens, my father would suggest me as a babysitter to his friends and tell me, “If they try and pay you, don’t accept. They work hard, just go out of kindness so they can have a nice night out.” I still look back on those times and think I was quite right to sulk, “Well YOU bloody babysit them then!”

I was raised to regard getting paid for things you do as slightly awkward – when there was money, we had to immediately give it away or share it. In my early twenties, I worked in a bar and reluctantly took my first payslip: “Oh no! Honestly! I just stepped in because I wanted to help”. I lived in a bedsit and my anthem was Pulp’s “Common People”. (A mere 13 years ago, I was still living in a bedsit I shared with a colony of woodlice.) After my career took an upward trajectory, my bedsit turned into a smart terraced house and the woodlice turned into furniture from John Lewis.

I am not the socialist my father is. I have happily accepted upgrades on long-haul flights when people I was working for paid. My father is different. Last week he went off to America to give a poetry reading at a university. He is 77 years old and has had a triple bypass operation recently so I pleaded with him to allow his champagne socialist daughter to upgrade his ticket to Premium Economy. “No thank you,” said my pop, “I want to sit with the people, common people”. I don’t get it personally. When all you’ll be doing is watching Home Alone 2, you might as well do it in comfort.

The instincts and values of socialism, however, do not leave you, even after you are finally able to pay your rent without going, “Phew, no overdraft.” My boy is in year six and though I can afford it, I can’t send him to a private secondary school. I’ve been to see our local ones, they are lush. But I can’t square it with my personal values. Believe me, I have tried. Really hard. I will instead encourage his friendships with public school children as it’s always good to know good lawyers when you get into a pickle.

My father’s close friends included many right wingers and rabid capitalists, the umbrella of friendship can be huge and I have no beef with parents who choose private school. We all do what we can under the system we live under. I am still a socialist. My words and action are not insincere just because I have a desirable postcode to go back to and a quality bottle of shiraz (by quality I mean £6.50).

Up until the age of 33, I lived very much hand to mouth, doing cleaning jobs to make ends meet. I haven’t forgotten those days now that I pay cleaners. I will still call out the despicable lack of investment this government makes in public services. Call me a champagne socialist for it is true. As one of my dad’s wealthier friends once said, I’m a banana daquiri socialist who believes in spreading the wealth, not the poverty.

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