Last week, the BBC’s Newsnight programme aired the first in a series of focus groups looking at the political views of families across Britain. One of the families featured was from South Wales; a mother in her forties called Julia, her teenage son Lewis, and her student daughter Steph. The conversation went like this:
Julia: “David Cameron. Do you think he gives a living sh*t about us? He doesn’t seem to have any concern for the poorest members of society.”
Steph: “I think you should have a look at the Green Party.”
Julia: “[Groans] See what happens here? You bring your children up, they spit in your face.”
Steph: “I’m not spitting in your face… Shall I tell you why I’m not Labour?”
Julia: “Oh god.” [Bangs on table, interrupts, groans]
Now, Swansea is a very Labour area. And of course this is just one family, so it is purely anecdotal. But Julia’s behaviour round the dinner table is nonetheless indicative of a remarkable phenomenon which takes places across some areas of Britain in the run up to each election. Every polling day, votes are cast for the Labour Party because of family allegiance. Young people who have no interest in or knowledge of politics put a cross next to their local Labour candidate, of whom they have never heard, because their parents tell them to do so.
Many parents, like Julia, don’t seek to open up a stimulating political debate with their children, rather they dictate the views these impressionable future voters should hold. Worse, they dictate which party they should vote for. It is almost always the same party, too.
When Steph, a woman in her twenties, dared to suggest she might vote Green, her mother scoffed, groaned, derided her, interrupted her and implied that doing so would be contrary to how she had been brought up. She might have done all this with half a smile on her face, but she meant it. Steph would vote Labour, or she would be letting her mum down.
This does not happen systematically among Conservative voters. There do exist across swathes of the south families who have voted Tory for generations, but very rarely do parents who vote Conservative tell their children they must do the same. Neither does it happen among people who vote Liberal Democrat, or Green, or UKIP, or any other party. Yet the phrase “we are a Labour family” is common. “Your grandparents voted Labour, we vote Labour, you will vote Labour.”
When you think about it, this entrenched cultural behaviour among some families in certain parts of Britain is really quite awful. It is almost cultish. Whatever one’s political views, we would agree that pressurising one’s children to think a certain way on other current affairs issues is fundamentally illiberal.
Encouraging lively and, above all else, open discussion about what is on the news is surely a key part of bringing up your kids. But to almost coerce young people who have yet to form their political opinions into thinking a certain way, into choosing a certain political party – using emotional blackmail to prevent them from choosing an alternative – is beyond contempt. And yet this happens, every election, within thousands of families across the country. It is outdated, downright backward, anti-democratic and just plain wrong