Elliot was a baby. I travelled a great deal. Whenever I returned he would not look at me or acknowledge me. I’d betrayed his love again. But, then, I remember wanting to admire my own father but not being able to.
We had been overwhelmed by financial disaster, lost our house to the criminality of creditors.Had to move away from my beloved city, Liverpool. My father fought doggedly and lost, suffered the disgrace of the insolvent. I learned my socialism that night my father, Ike, sat down the whole family to make a ‘For’ and ‘Against’ list for leaving Liverpool and moving to Bristol where he had been offered salvation in the form of a job with a house. None of us wanted to leave – this was 1963, the first millisecond of the Big Bang that was the 1960s – in one of its epicentres – and we were all burned by it. To stay meant financial struggle and continued humiliation. He insistently promised that if we voted to stay he would make a go of it. We voted to leave. But we were unforgiving of his crushing defeat.
Maybe it was too early in the growing democratic maelstrom that was the 1960s. I did not make connections, I did not see the bigger picture. Except – just the once. My fanatically beloved girlfriend whom I had to leave behind was the daughter of a wealthy man and a gambler. We were standing in the vacancy of our broken house, trying to stem the aching necessity of our relationship. Desperately looking for a way out at this last moment she thought of her father giving us enough money not to have to move away. She mentioned a sum that he had lost at the tables the previous night – enough, I thought, to have saved the house. I was too young to feel the anger that was sowed in me that moment. I was bemused as I waved a melodramatic farewell. I never stopped feeling fond of her father, the wealthy gambler – the successful man.
Austerity is sold to us as a family insolvency. “We are all in this together!” is not just a PR slogan – it is a political philosophy, a harsh economic insight. Debt is bigger than love; families are subservient to economy; we are defined by our economic patriarchies. In a real sense we are all in this together. Modern economics – stripped of moral underpinning – dictate that we all have an immediate interest in the wellbeing of the wealthy. The banks cannot fail. Who cares if a banker jumps off the roof in suicidal hysteria – but what of our house, our mortgage, our children’s future jobs? Richard Branson, Capita, G4S and all the greedily complacent predators on public services have to succeed because so much of our livelihoods are implicated in their success. When the FBI takes on Apple seeking to decode the telephone of a terrorist we side with Apple who proclaims itself champion of the citizen’s right to privacy – not with the public institution of the police. With the election of Donald Trump signifying the final triumph of Big Business over the public sector, and with British Conservative governments cutting our welfare state to ‘recapitalise’ the banks, we have become citizens of the corporate state.
Our father who art in ruin.
Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn are the true figures of the psychological phenomenon that is an insolvent Labour Party. The indulgent fathers, gentle of intent and honest of dealing are overwhelmed and disgraced by the Masters of Credit. And they are culpable and made shabby. Our fondness for the successful gambler, peering from the corner of a narrowed eye at the sad removal van, is a perversion of loving dismay. In our innocent bewilderment we turn away from the betrayal of our father’s failure.
Now, after so many years and passings, I realise that it was we who betrayed my father. We should have voted to stay in Liverpool, to spare him the additional disgrace of wrenching us away from the vibrancy of our life and home, scuttling off to a sterile financial security. We chose not to stay and watch and admire and join him in his courageous confrontation with the consequences and the gamblers; but in our secrecy and security to disdain the gesture of his defeat.
It did not come naturally, I learned to love my father.