It was Margaret Thatcher that I hold responsible for my political awakening. Growing up in a small C conservative Catholic family and attending a Catholic public school I was slightly too young for the political upheavals of the late 1960’s (though in the later years at school and then at university I enthusiastically followed the changes in the Church, but was slow to come to recognise the social and political changes that they implied) and followed my parents and most fellow students in becoming a supporter of the Conservative cause. In my defence I must point out that in the late 1970’s the left in this country was a mess and (at least as portrayed in most of the press) the Labour Party was in hock to a trade union movement that was running amok. So, in 1979 at the first General Election where I could vote my mark was placed against the Conservative party.
I hasten to add that that was the only time in my entire life where I did so. Thatcher hadn’t been in post for long when I began to see the damage that unbridled implementation of policies based mainly on market forces could do to society and to smaller communities. And at that point I began to put together the social teaching of the Church and my changing political outlook. I never joined a political party but for the last 35 years I’ve definitely been on the left in my political views. I refuse to accept blindly the accepted concepts of capitalism and the view that the best answer to everything is “the market”. I suppose that the nearest label that could be applied to my viewpoint is “Christian Socialist”, with an equal emphasis on each word.
I did my best to demonstrate this outlook to my daughters as they grew up, and Marianne, the middle daughter, gave me John Rees’s The Leveller Revolution as a Christmas present. She thought I’d enjoy reading about some of the very earliest left wing thought in English history, and in that she was absolutely right.
The English Civil War was one of the areas of history that I studied for O’ Level but it was at a fairly superficial level. I have absolutely no memory of the Levellers ever being mentioned and though the name has cropped up in my general reading over the years I knew practically nothing of them. I knew more about the Diggers, famous from the Leon Rosselson song The World Turned Upside Down. After reading this book I am far more aware of some of the major undercurrents that formed the revolution that brought about the execution of Charles I. Moreover I am in awe of the sheer courage of many of those involved and their steadfastness in the face of overwhelming power. The establishment of the networks of illegal printers that allowed the promulgation of pamphlets showing the literally revolutionary new ideas was a bit of an eye-opener. There is so much in this book to admire. The people, their strength, their enthusiasm, their ideas all in the end had an influence that extends down the centuries to form the country as it is over 350 years later. If you’re interested in the radical history of England I think you’ll enjoy this book.