My first political memory is of the 1997 general election. I was nine and didn’t understand what was going on. My dad was a vocal Tory supporter and all I knew was there had been a competition and “our” side had lost.
My early political education came from my parents and the Church of England. I still find it odd that I became a socialist! But I became aware of contradictions in the world views I was being inculcated with.
The vicar put across a liberal “love and caring” interpretation of the Bible, but at home politics was more individualistic. My dad would often tell me and my brother “paddle your own canoe”. Years later I would tell him that in this society we were all stuck in one canoe and fighting over the paddles.
Meanwhile at church the ideas about everyone being equal didn’t square with the prayers about Christianity being the true faith. I stopped saying the bits I disagreed with and eventually got out of it altogether by playing rugby on Sundays. I felt bad about human suffering and wanted the world to be a better, happier place, but my views were largely directionless.
I went to gigs at an anarchist club in Bradford and started trying to read about anarchism online. I made friends with a group of people who read the newspapers and talked about the world. I didn’t like the Labour Party because of the war in Iraq; I didn’t like the Tories because they seemed mean. I liked the Liberal Democrats, who, at face value, seemed pleasant and left-wing.
I got involved in a youth organisation called the Woodcraft Folk and came into contact with a general left-wing culture, but our activity wasn’t aimed at doing a great deal apart from organising our own events and educating our own members.
I thought I was intelligent (I did well at school) and left-wing. At university I was sure I would meet lots of other intelligent, left-wing people just like me, who would want to talk about anarchism and the Liberal Democrats. I went to Oxford University, met a lot of arrogant, rich conservatives, and got into Marxist literary theory. It was a period full of confusing revelations.
Around this time I went on an anti-war march and on the day hung around with an anarchist I’d met on the coach. But when he went looking for some anarchists who had boycotted the march and gone to the pub, that did it for me and anarchism.
Then I met the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and the Socialist Party and started hanging around with the SP in Oxford.
An AWL comrade from London would visit and talk to me. Socialist education was giving me ideas that helped me to understand the world. No one had ever really talked to me about class politics before. With the AWL I was reading and discussing, which gave me something to focus on and talk about. Soon I was asked if I wanted to join. I said yes, I couldn’t think of a good reason not to. I agreed with everything I was learning; it made sense to act because of it.
Most of my political education has happened since joining the AWL. I would never have come across the struggles I’ve been involved in or the ideas I’ve read about without an organisation. I remain a socialist because of this ongoing education and the analysis of the world we share.
I’m still where I was when I first joined. I still agree, so why would I not act?