Losing my religion

Dec 6th, 2006 | By | Category: Personal Columns

The new Rectory will have a market value in excess of €2 million (£1.4 m, $2.6 m), which is unexceptional in these parts, but is a sum beyond my imagination.

The electrician asked me where I would want sockets. I hadn’t thought much about it. ‘There will be one on the wall here for the plasma’, he said.

‘The what?’ I asked. Our television dates from times before people watched cinema screens on their living room walls.

Increasingly disorientated by his bombardment of questions and details, I finally said, ‘I grew up in a council house with an outside toilet’.

He looked at me.So did I’.

Our communication was much clearer and straightforward once the ground on which we stood was clear.

The simple fact of my upbringing always made me feel that the only party I should vote for was the one that claimed to represent the people amongst whom I grew up. On every occasion since 1979 that I have had an opportunity to vote for a Labour candidate, I have done so.

I watched the television coverage of the Irish budget this afternoon and wondered why I had always voted the way I had.

There were parts of England and Wales where they used to joke that the Labour vote was so large that they weighed the ballot papers instead of counting them. I used to long to be living somewhere like the Rhondda or EbbwVale instead of Tory Somerset. They had Labour councils for generations. Occasionally, the heretical thought would enter my head that it seemed odd that some areas with Labour councils never seemed to improve and that if Labour had the best interests of working people at heart it seemed strange that their councils charged the highest rates. But I was confident that there was a plan that was being worked out.

This afternoon as the centre-right politician Brian Cowen delivered the budget in Dail Eireann, the Irish Parliament, the Irish Labour deputies looked on contemptuously. It was a good budget for people who lived in council houses. Income tax burdens were lifted; pensioners got a good deal; social welfare benefits received generous rises. If I was still back in the days of my youth, I would have thought this was a good day.

Why then the disdain from the Left?

Maybe they had never lived in a council house with an outside toilet. Maybe they have plasma screens. Maybe they would understand all the questions from the electrician. Maybe people like my community are OK as voters, as long as we don’t get above ourselves.

It was a day on which my old religion was finally lost.

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