the political is personal…


Me: I’ve decided I’m going to get a tattoo, do you have any preferences as to where I should get it?

Husband: your bottom, I suppose.

Me: oh ok. I was sort of thinking I might like to show it to people.

Husband: what’s it going to be a tattoo of?

Me: it’s going to say “the personal is political”

Husband : I don’t really get it

Me : it’s a feminist slogan

Husband: probably not your bottom then, that’s probably not the right tone.


For some years now I have been living my life according to a Bahktin quote about how ideals are to be loved, held high, aimed for, attempted to embody, thus turning your whole existence into some big exciting revolutionary piece of art. I tried to look it up recently and couldn’t find it, and realised I was in the uniquely pretentious position of building my life around a Bakhtin quote that Bakhtin never actually said. A bit like my friend Lindsay who has lived much of her life believing that Pianoman is her favourite Elton John song. He would have loved that. Bakhtin I mean, not Elton John. And certainly not Billy Joel. But the point is I do love my ideals, I treasure them and try to live as fastidiously close to them as I can.

But the question is, how do I convert my lofty ideals into deciding who to vote for? There is no imaginary Bakhtin quotation party. There isn’t even a Billy Joel party as far as I am aware. So I have to choose one of the existing ones.

The Ipsos Mori people phoned me up the other day. I always talk to them, because a) I’m a bit lonely and b) I used to work for them so I feel their pain. Which political party do you feel most represents your views? The lady said. Greens, I said. But I’m making tea. Just one more question she said, if the election was tomorrow, who would you vote for? I’m burning something, but SNP I said. I remain a bit unsure, but it’s definitely between those two. I am one of those voters you read about you see, a statistic. English, lifelong Labour supporter, voted Yes in the referendum, swithering between SNP and Greens ever since (Swither: to hesitate, vacillate or be perplexed in Scottish – you see how native I am?). But how did it come to this?

I have been trying to trace my own political roots. Two nights ago I was struck by a memory, of sitting in our attic one Sunday morning. We didn’t used to put the telly on, on Sundays. We weren’t religious, or I wasn’t back then, it was more of a pretentious thing on my part: on Sunday I liked to Read The Paper. We used to get The Independent on Sunday, me and my Mum. I liked the restaurant reviews, even though they were all for London, and some of the columns. I wasn’t political then, and I was quite shallow, but would have always considered myself a Labour supporter and left-wing, even though I wasn’t old enough to vote yet. I suppose it was all just black and white for me: we had talked about Labour and the Tories in the playground since primary school, we drew pictures of Margaret Thatcher on our hands in the playground and squashed her, Tories made the rich richer and the poor poorer and Labour did it the other way round, everybody knew that.

Anyway there I was, reading the paper, and chatting to a friend on the landline. All very twentieth century. And she said that Diana had died, and I didn’t know because as mentioned above we didn’t have the telly on. So I phoned the guy I was seeing at the time, on his landline, because that’s what to do isn’t it, when something major happens, so that you will always remember big historical events linked to the particular loser you were sleeping with at the time. And then I went back to my paper. This was 1997, when I lost my virginity, there was a Labour landslide, and Katrina and the Waves won Eurovision. All big changes for me, and some on a more national scale too.

But let’s just stick with me for a minute, as is my wont. I suppose I was thinking about Diana because that new baby’s middle name is Diana, but more I was thinking about The Independent. About how I eventually stopped reading it because I remember that even my teenage brain processed back then that there wasn’t anything vaguely lefty about it if all the fashion and the restaurants they reviewed were too expensive. So the other night when I saw that they had ‘come out’ as con-dem supporters it felt like some sort of old instinct for disillusionment had been justified, like they really never did mean any of it. And this feels like a tiny example of some much bigger disillusionment. Everything has just blended into one big neo-liberal mush. Like there is no left wing any more, just people who vote Labour but worry about catchment areas and property prices a lot. None of it seemed relevant to me. But then the referendum happened.

What the referendum gave us was a sense of carnival, a much needed polyphony (all things which Bakhtin really did go on about). It renewed my belief that politics was relevant, that I had some kind of stake in the world around me. So I feel I have to vote for a party which supports independence. I am tempted to vote SNP tomorrow because I want the message to go out that things can be different, to shake things up a little. But I will vote Green tomorrow because, as I told the Ipsos Mori lady, they are the party which reflects my values most closely.

And I’m really sorry to all my English friends if you think I am letting you down or screwing things up for everyone else by not voting Labour. But I moved here and choose to stay here and I spend my whole life fighting against people who think it’s OK that they can afford £30,000 per year to make sure their kids don’t have to talk to poor kids, who think their children deserve better than your children because they were born richer than you, so capitalism has to be my bottom line. Because any part that does not renounce capitalism has to ultimately slide into nasty neo-liberal mush, the only real question that is at once personal and political is ‘do you think it’s OK for some people to be much richer than others?’. This is linked to how you view the environment, because let’s face it, the more the whole Earth is completely fucked, the more poor people – those who have done the least to damage it – will suffer.

So I say first choice Scottish Greens. Second choice Piano Man.

3 thoughts on “the political is personal…

  1. This made me nostalgic and chuckle at the same time – from “Snacter Thatcher, throw her up and catch her…”, to your attic and reading the Indy at 14. It makes me think of mulled wine in your kitchen at Xmas time and dinner parties where we got far too merry on the Shiraz 🙂

    It also made think of how fundamentally similar our upbringing was, our family situations, and our outlook at 15, and yet despite our very different experiences since – how fundamentally similar our world view now still is. What differs mostly is where we live, and the local political context. That’s something to remember when the votes are tallied tomorrow night – those voting Green, Labour, Plaid, SNP, SDLP, even LibDem in some areas, many fundamentally want the same thing but are faced with a choice between being true (as I admire) and being tactical to get the outcome they want (as I am grateful for). Here’s hoping if we have the chance again we remedy that with some true proportionate system.

  2. ah tom you are giving away my age! ;-). how I miss that attic, I think my whole flat would fit in it now, and we all had it pretty much to ourselves didn’t we? and those parties…
    it is interesting to think how little we have changed since then, I wonder what I would be doing if I was still in England, but I would be angling pretty hard for some sort of true proportional system, the current situation is ridiculous.

    1. True – something properly PR like singer transferable vote maybe – a good balance of mitigating extremist parties but being more representative. The difficulty with the AV referendum was that it was a referendum on Clegg – and even that would be better than this dogs ear of a system. Fingers crossed. 🙂

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