Jonathan Bolt: Why I am a Conservative


I have always voted Conservative, and because it’s unlikely that the party would ever be taken over by a rabid throwback fringe group á la the current Labour tribe, I’ll probably always vote Conservative. I’m one of many people who feel that it’s my party so I can’t foresee any circumstance where I’d cast my ballot otherwise.

It’s difficult to write something like this without making it highly personal, but I guess that’s the point – why do normal, everyday people vote Conservative? So here’s my story.

I was born in 1960 and like most people I didn’t become politicised until my late teens or early twenties.  My early teens were memorable for a number of reasons, but indelibly etched on my memory are episodes of a Victorian nature. Moving around the house following a parent armed with a candle, and struggling to read the Beano gathered around the living room fire as the reality of the three day week hit home. As a child it was quite exciting but the significance of these episodes only came clear to me in my late teens.

My father was a one-time Communist but it’s still not clear to me how or if he informed my politics. He was a 1970s ‘Corbynista’ before Corbyn. Having previously been indoctrinated into Communism by fellow prisoners whilst a guest of the Japanese in Singapore, he had apparently softened and was a leading shop steward in the local ICI chemical factory. ‘Softened’ is a little over stated perhaps – he absolutely hated the Tories with a vengeance. Born 40 years later, he would have been an activist for Momentum. He lived and breathed militantancy, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that ‘lights out’ and lots of other bad stuff that happened in the 1970s wasn’t really down to the “Bless-ed Tories” (Lancastrian pejorative), it was really all about trade union barons and the power of the unelected.

After a spell of stacking shelves in the local Tesco, and wanting a bit more than perpetual winter and following your Dad into heavy industry, I essentially ran away. In 1977 I fled the lack of opportunity in the North of England right in the middle of a Jim Callaghan-led Labour Government, to join the Royal Air Force.

On reflection joining the Forces was the best move I ever made. There is a lot I could say about the benefits of military training and ‘indoctrination’, but most of all and to cut a long story short, I emerged as someone who believes in personal responsibility and ‘service’. It’s simple – if it needs doing, do it, and don’t ask anyone else to do it for you. It was the realisation of this simple approach that got me studying again, because I realised that raising a family, without a much rounder education, and the subsequent opportunities would be very difficult.  Two degrees later I’m in the middle of a very successful management consultancy career with a Big Four firm.

Having watched Maggie’s Conservatives sweep into power in ‘79, I left the UK to serve overseas. I returned in the mid-1980’s to a much changed Britain. Under Mrs T we had beaten off the Argentinians in the mid-Atlantic, taking on the unelected union dictators that plunged us into darkness in the 1970s and the cosy post-war consensus that told us the State should be all pervasive. It really was another country, full of colour and optimism, you could aspire to anything. Ironically the Conservatives are painted as ‘posh’, but it was Margaret Thatcher that initiated the flattening on the class system.

Conservatism can seem uncaring – it isn’t, but I can live with that because life is tough sometimes. Conservatism is logical – not wholly based on emotion, and we sometimes fail to make that case, we see the logic and are surprised when others don’t. So, I’m a Conservative because I see the logic of freedom, of smaller government, of independence and of self-determination and I understand that our past informs our future. As such, I see it as more about empowering the individual towards self-actualisation than about protecting the rich.

My father didn’t see this logic at all, and never really admitted he was wrong, but an incident following his early retirement from the ICI made me think he’d finally got it.

He had a rather difficult life. At 21 my father was put on a troop ship travelling to Egypt to fight the Germans in North Africa. However the ship was rerouted to Singapore – that famously ‘impregnable fortress’, to halt the Japanese invasion of the Malaysian peninsula. Arriving far too late, save for a nominal defensive battle, the troops were basically ushered straight into Changi gaol – for three and a half years. On his repatriation he returned to a country that had a grand master plan. The contrast between the one he returned to in 1945 and the one I returned to 40 years later could not be clearer.

Indeed it was a plan which would suffocate the nation. He was offered and took early retirement after nearly 40 years of shift work, which was the State looking after him. The day he opened his pension gratuity was a shock for him. He’d been taxed, heavily. He didn’t sound like a collectivist that day! I’m unsure if he just didn’t realise that he wouldn’t be tax exempt as a retiree, but I like to think that he suddenly woke up to the monster he’d been supporting all his working life.

This article is part of our ongoing ‘Why I am a Conservative’ series, in which supporters of CfL talk about their beliefs and values. If you would like to take part please email blog@con4lib.

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty