My ex would have loved Jeremy Corbyn being leader of the Labour Party. I say “my” but actually, to no surprise on my part at all, I discovered there were many exes at his funeral. We felt no bitterness, just warmth and worry about a man who had been both passionate and compassionate. We speculated as to why he killed himself. Some said it was the anti-depressants he’d just been prescribed, which might have caused a psychotic attack. Others mentioned how he’d been offered a part in a provincial tour of a run-of-the-mill theatre adaptation of a popular film, which would at least have supported his newly arrived baby, but what with that and the Tories back in power, it had broken his spirit.
I thought of him again when I saw that Corbyn, “just having to firefight all the time – so unfair” as fellow local Labour party member put it, had chosen to spend the weekend before the next phase of the leadership challenge, at a rally for the Tolpuddle Martyrs. More ‘performative leftism’ I snorted to myself, and then heard my ex howl in my ear. One of his proudest moments was playing a Tolpuddle Martyr in a radical theatre company production in the 1980s. He hoped it would lead to roles on TV or film in DH Lawrence adaptations, but in the end he played the cuckolded Lord Chatterley in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and then made good money as a regular cast member in a soap.
Someone else said that it was his failure to sell his flat in London that he had bought with his wages from the soap that was the last straw for him. I was desperately hoping it wasn’t anything to do with the scathing remarks my father (his former university teacher) made to his face about selling out.
My ex had got to university as one of the working class misfits that the faculty liked to bring in under its wing every year. It helped that he came from the same mining village as my father and that circularity brought us together, even though there was more than a decade in ages between us.
I was just finishing A levels when the 1984 miners’ strike started. I still have all the enamel support badges from that time and the detailed, outraged letters my ex wrote about fund raising for miners’ families and the hardships they were undergoing.
When I returned from my “year out”, ready to join Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt at university, I was reunited with my ex. He was dressed as a jester as part of a touring troupe. I found his passionate haranguing jarring, and said so. He lashed back with a diatribe about how Oxford was all about power, not ideals. One of his London friends, an upper-class stalwart of the Socialist Workers Party, politely but grimly informed me that my Daily Mail reading, rather racist grandmother would be shot, come the revolution. We didn’t talk again for many years.
My grandmother was not a nice person in many ways, but I absolutely admire her for her determination to make her way out of her mining family, and bravely move to London in the middle of the Blitz, to drive fire engines. She married unhappily, but at least it got her a lovely little house in the Home Counties, and she was fiercely proud of my father, despite his rejection of her, and of me, for having got to university and made something of ourselves.
She’d probably have voted to leave the EU if she was still alive, and I think would have approved very much of Theresa May. I still don’t think she deserves to be shot. And I am not voting for Jeremy Corbyn, no matter what my ex might have said.
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