When I was little my Dad would tell me stories with monsters he called “Lamonts” and do an impression of Douglas Hurd’s voice. I didn’t know who Norman Lamont or Douglas Hurd were, but I knew my Dad thought they were stupid or bad. That was my first introduction to politics.
We discussed politics as a family and I was always keen to find out more. I remember the 2001 election and seeing Socialist Alliance leaflets being handed out somewhere, but I was most interested in environmental initiatives — recycling, protecting endangered species and saving the rainforest. My dad told me that socialists didn’t always care about that stuff.
I wanted to go to the demonstration against the Iraq War (2003) but couldn’t make it. I was very angry and upset on the day when the UK invaded Iraq. By the time I started studying A Level politics I saw myself firmly as left wing, but I was a left liberal not dissimilar to my parents.
I remember studying the Russian Revolution briefly in GCSE history. Looking back, we were given a very confused history of the period; Stalinism was depicted as both inevitable and also necessary to maintain the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, and that was presented as meaning “a despotic regime that called itself communist”.
Around this time John McDonnell had indicated he would stand for the Labour leadership when Tony Blair stood down. I knew who he was as he knows my grandad. I thought this would be good because I knew he was a left winger but I also didn’t take much more attention.
I chose to study politics at university and liked the course I had chosen at Hull because it included working for an MP for a year. I probably thought I would end up working for a Labour MP though I also thought most of the Parliamentary Labour Party were pretty bad. A chance encounter on a bus with a member of Hull Labour Club, persuaded me to come along to a meeting. He was very anti-Blair, called himself a Marxist (in reality a Stalinist), but he convinced me that the Labour Party was still a place to have debate about and try to organise to change the world. I still felt the Labour Party in 2006-7 was a place for Blairite students and apolitical people to find careers.
We campaigned in local elections and had MPs turn up to talk to us, and I remember arguing with them about politics and for me the key issue was getting John McDonnell on the ballot for the election of the next Labour leader By this time a few of us in the Labour Club had become isolated and identified as “Trots”, though none of us were! I definitely felt I wanted something more than just weekly meetings where we sorted out door knocking or going to national Labour Students events.
In May 2007, I went to my first Labour Representation Committee LGBT event. It was held in a small room in Conway Hall with less than 10 of us and including John McDonnell. I was the youngest person there and several of the other attendees were aging members of the Communist Party. But I met a couple of comrades from Workers’ Liberty, one of whom said in the meeting “I’m a Trot”. I thought, well I am too! I meant I was a socialist and anti-Stalinist and not really thought out beyond that.
I went to the AWL’s Ideas for Freedom event in 2007 and got involved in debates, discussions and workshops — “boycotting Israel”, queer politics, and a lively debate with the journalist Nick Cohen... I could see that the AWL were serious so I kept in touch, started meeting them and having proper discussions. Bit-by-bit I came to understand what Trotskyism actually meant and I was still very happy to call myself a “Trot.”