I’m not quite sure what my 16-year-old self would think of me now. That chippy, attitude-laden young man who lived for Linfield games, cider, young females, hard trance and pretty much anything but school would no doubt wonder where it had all gone wrong.
“You hate authority”, he might ask; “what on earth are you doing with yourself?”
He would have a point. Since the age of nothing I have despised being told what to do, leading consecutive school reports to describe me as being in possession of ‘an attitude problem’, which I always took as a bit of a compliment, believing it be Northern Ireland grammar school shorthand for ‘thinks for himself a bit too much’.
If confronted by this barely recognisable version of myself from half my earthly existence ago I might first tell him that the eyebrow piercing was a bit much and that the second tattoo he would certainly live to regret, before explaining how I got to this point.
Emily Barley’s article on what made her a Conservative placed the credit firmly with her mother, a single parent who never gave up.
My parents both came from backgrounds as far removed from the red-trousered, fox-hunting, champagne quaffing stereotype as Emily’s mother. My own mum grew up in ‘the Village’ area of South Belfast, was taken out of school before O-levels to bring in some money, in what I regard as emblematic of the Protestant working class disregard for education and walked straight into a job on the basis of whose daughter she was. My dad is the son of a Communist activist and ICI shop steward from Blackpool, who joined the RAF at 17. He at least managed to get through his O-levels. They’ve both done pretty well for themselves, embodying the same attributes Emily’s mother does.
Political bigots out there might label us class traitors or at best say “you’re not typical Conservatives, are you?”
They’re wrong, I’m a very typical Tory.
But my parents’ work ethic isn’t the main reason for my conservatism, despite probably contributing to it. At the age of 19 I Iost two of my front teeth to someone else’s forehead. Undecided about whether to bother with University, this pretty painful trauma was enough to make up my mind for me. I wanted better than the life I was destined for if I carried on the way I was going.
I threw myself into learning, eventually realising that my predisposition to non-conformity wasn’t unnatural or something that was going to hold me back for the rest of my life. I started to question things in a much more structured way than the moody teenager ever could have.
Over the years I’ve managed to temper my disregard for authority and use it to my advantage by working in organisations where original thinking, particularly if it brings results, is welcomed. I occasionally take a creative strop, but that’s about the limit of it. I temper it because doing so puts money in my pocket. But where money is taken out of my pocket, money I know I could put to better use elsewhere, I will never temper it.
The Conservative Party is full of people like me. I can count the number of people I have met since joining the Conservatives ten years ago who haven’t come from a similar background on one hand. I would even go as far to say that the most genuinely middle class people I know, in that their families have been teachers, clergy or accountants for as long as they can remember, swing heavily to the left. When you have more, you have more to give away, I suppose.
But being a Tory isn’t about class or background. It’s an attitude to life. It’s about seeing the opportunity where others just see problems, it’s about deciding you want better and that you deserve better. It’s about relentless positivity when the chips are down. It’s about squeezing everything you can into life because you know it’ll be worth it in the end.
But most importantly it’s about not playing the game. We could all take the easy option, give up, rely on others and surrender to a state that wants to look after us from the cradle to grave. It’s about being independently minded and resisting group think.
A good mate of mine from my disengaged teenage years reacted with some bemusement as 150 posters of my face were erected around East Belfast and recently asked me, in all seriousness, if the Tories were just for the rich people.
I told him no, it’s not about where you’re coming from, it’s about where you’re going to, a statement I will stand by until I’m cold in the ground.
Perhaps tempered by the knowledge that I still love dance music and going to watch Linfield, I would hope that my 16-year-old self would be happy with that explanation. I’m a Conservative because conformity is statist, it is mind numbing and it is economical and socially destructive. I’m an individual, and I’m in a party that, while not being perfect, respects that.
The post is part of a new series, in which supporters of CfL talk about their beliefs and values. If you would like to take part please email email@example.com