My family turned Tory to save our mansion
Confessions of a Champagne Socialist
ISOBEL COCKERELL: Week 4 – Middle class guilt
Last month, for the first time ever, I realised I was politically outnumbered by my family. In front of my eyes, they had turned blue, like Violet Beauregarde eating so much gum. I thought I had been brought up in a cosy, liberal, leftwing, Prosecco-Socialist enclave. I was wrong.
None of my immediate family have ever voted Conservative. Then one day, a few weeks before the election, we talked about how we would vote. Silence fell across the lunch table. My loved ones’ eyes dropped as they pushed their rack of lamb nervously around on their plate, mopping up the salsa verde with their homemade sourdough bread.
It emerged, slowly, gradually, painstakingly, that for the first time in their lives, my sister and my mother were both voting for Cameron.
“I just don’t fancy Ed Miliband,” my sister said.
“I just don’t fancy the mansion tax,” my mother said.
“You don’t fancy Milibae?! You don’t fancy the MANSION TAX?!” I said, standing up, ready for a full-blown row.
“Do you really want to lose your childhood home?” my mother snapped. “You don’t know anything about our financial situation, you have an absolutely warped concept of the value of money, and you’ve never earned a penny in your life, so just sit down.”
This last is not entirely true. I once polished teaspoons for two weeks in a local café. I have had a number of other paid, marginally less menial jobs. And I concur, the struggle hasn’t exactly been…real.
I should mention my parents originally bought our ‘mansion’ – a London flat – for about a £150k. Not that I’m trying to play down my privilege, and I genuinely wish certain Cambridge students would stop doing that – pretending you ‘had it rough’ is not exactly helpful to those who really did. And I didn’t.
I know enough to know that my family might be able to stretch to the extra £250 a month. Once more, that’s quite a spoilt thing for me to say, seeing as they are supporting me financially while I’m here at Cambridge. I’m not sure whether it is spoilt not to want to preserve the assets you have benefited from your entire life, if it means those assets will be distributed more fairly.
Anyway, £250 a month is by no means so small a sum as to go unnoticed, and my family would certainly have to make economies. For instance, if they switched from Ocado to Morrissons, they’d be halfway there. I told them this. It was not, on the whole, received well.
On the first Monday of Tory rule, I was sitting outside the UL having a fag break and chatting with an old, doddery don who sat on the bench next to me. He had voted Ukip ‘to keep out the Tories’. (Don’t ask.)
‘Come back and look at yourself – and at all those King’s so-called ‘radicals’ – in ten years,’ he said. ‘You’ll all be fat, balding right-wingers, same as me. You mark my words.’
It’s a depressing thought. Because the thing is, most people like a nice life, once they can get it. They like their nice houses, and what’s more, they like the Ocado man coming once a week. These people were young once; they were radical; they were angry. It’s all very well being a social liberal when you’ve got no money. But when you suddenly are earning, becoming a fiscal conservative becomes invariably more appealing. This is a line trotted out by right-wingers from their armchairs all the time – but, sadly, it’s true. Because once you have money, the Tories will make life a whole lot easier for you – as is tradition.
I know now there is truly no such thing as a ‘cosy, prosecco socialist enclave’. Those who lambast the Guardianista left have it wrong. The problem isnt that they’re middle class and left, it’s that they’re incurably fickle. Once their Observer lifestyle threatens to be whipped away, then all their principles disappear too. Sod the NHS if it means you have to give up your AGA and underfloor heating.
In the end, I persuaded my sister to vote Green. And my mother was struck down by a migraine (or fate, whichever) on polling day, so she didn’t end up voting at all. Although the Tory win was totally fucking devastating, I’m very aware that I needn’t have felt scared for myself.
And shamefully, among the bitter disappointment of Labour’s catastrophic defeat, I couldn’t help noticing, if I’m being totally honest, a twinge of relief that our family definitely wouldn’t have to move house. That we could keep our lovely, ramshackle home in what is now known as ‘prime’ London.
That twinge was what scared me, because I know full well that gradually, all around us, council houses will start be sold off. Rich, cocaine-fuelled yuppies will move into flats that were supposed to be for those who truly needed them. Things will get just that much cosier in the warm sanctuaries of Cameron’s untaxed mansions, while everyone else will be shoved out in the cold. It terrifies me that one day I might be fine with that.