My Granddad was an Old Labour man. He used to sit my dad down and tell him all about the great things that the Labour Party had achieved for working people in his community. He would proudly talk about the politicians that had created the National Health Service and the men and women that had fought tirelessly for workers' rights. He would speak with reverence about Keir Hardie, Clem Atlee and, particularly, Aneurin Bevan. My Granddad would reserve the highest possible praise for politicians. This is an idea that, to me, seems somehow unimaginable today.
My parents had a similar respect for the Labour politicians of their generation. When I was growing up, they constantly told me somewhat sentimental stories about folks like Tony Benn and Michael Foot. They would say that Benn and Foot were men of principle; men who remained steadfast in what they believed in and refused to kowtow to external pressures. Like Atlee and Bevan for my granddad, Benn and Foot were, indeed still are, regarded as heroes in my house. When Benn died earlier this year, my parents mourned the loss of one of our nation's finest politicians. My mum even took a day off work to place flowers by parliament and included a message of solidarity for the Benn family.
I don't have such political heroes. I don't, unlike the familial generations that have preceded me, reserve respect or praise for our present Labour politicians. I feel not deference, but indifference towards those who currently yield power. There are money-men and careerists occupying the houses of parliament, not the great leaders who fought for social justice that we had in the past. In an era when rampant capitalism seems to have failed us, with a huge drop in living standards for the majority of workers and some of the highest levels of inequality since World War Two, the left-wing is desperately crying out for principled and devoted men and women to offer us an alternative.
The Labour Party that my parents and grandparents remember offered such an alternative. The history of the Labour Party, as I nostalgically remember the stories of my family, is one of social progression precipitated by great men and great women. The Labour Party was founded through trade unions - acting on the behalf of recently enfranchised railway workers, dockers, gasworkers, printers, shoemakers and so on - who wished to align themselves with a party that was committed to better representation. The roots of the Labour Party from the very beginning, therefore, were deeply entrenched in a conscious effort to support working men and women.
The Labour Party continued, throughout its history, until recent times, to represent the men and women that other established parties marginalised. The Labour Party of Ramsey McDonald supported the suffragettes in their quest to give women the vote. The Labour Party of Clem Atlee created the welfare state that gave healthcare, education and housing to those who had fought for Britain, at home and abroad, during The Second World War. The Labour Party of Harold Wilson legalised what were at the time socially stigmatised practices, such as homosexuality, divorce and abortion.
The stories that I can recall from history books, and the tales that I remember from proud parents, barely scratch the surface of all that Labour has achieved. The crucial point throughout Labour's history is that they have traditionally stood for those who weren't properly represented in parliament. The future of the Labour Party, as I see it, resides upon its recognition of its past. The Labour Party needs to be reinvigorated with inspiring leaders who once again remain steadfast in what they believe in, rather than over-privileged opportunists who misguidedly embrace populist policies. We need the sort of political heroes that my dad and granddad spoke about with such veneration.
The history of the Labour Party, and my family's deep respect for the politicians of the past, has installed in me a devout and nostalgic loyalty. This nostalgic loyalty has, in the seven years that I have been eligible to vote, prevented me from straying to political alternatives. This loyalty, however, is wearing thin. Unless there is a shift in the way that the Labour Party is represented - buttressed by fair and earnest measures that once again seek to alleviate poverty, tackle inequality and support working people - I, for the first time in three generations of my paternal lineage, will stray from the party that has always meant so much to my family.