There is nothing like a General Election to make me reminisce and ask some fairly fundamental questions.
I was born into disadvantage and initially grew up in what I would call loving but far from ideal circumstances. I spent the first third of my childhood living with the family that I was born into and the next third in local authority care. I spent the final third as the adopted child of wealthy and loving middle-class parents. I have lived most of my adult life amongst the privileged (with some exceptions) although my complicated family crosses the social-economic spectrum; it includes the rich and powerful as well as the poor and struggling.
I have not found this mixed upbringing, as I call it, a complete headfeck. Rather, my politics are born from it.
I cannot forget what it is like to be poor or to be a child and to know that I’m poor. I cannot forget what it is like to be in care. I cannot forget what it is like to be the least important. I cannot forget what it is like to have the state in control of my life – and to be both dependent on the state and to fear and hate it.
I also cannot forget what it is like to be one of the wealthiest children in my class. I cannot forget what it was like to be treated differently based upon what people assumed was my background. I cannot forget what it was like to have opportunities suddenly open up before me.
I cannot forget the moment I started thinking: why is everything different for me now? Why couldn’t I have had all this before? Did I have to be adopted to be deserving?
I know, more than anyone, what a roll of the dice life is. I was born into something, tumbled around somewhere else, and then plonked in another place entirely. I had to become ‘as if born to’ middle class parents in order to enjoy the privileges that I now enjoy. It would not have happened as a child of the state: one needs well-resourced and caring parents to even get near the ladder. My corporate parent was not really up to it. This is not a comment on any individual foster parents, but a comment on the whole. It is sad, really. I did not have an emotional need for new parents. No: I had an opportunity need for new parents. I needed adoptive parents because I needed a lottery ticket. Even if that wasn’t anyone’s intention, because of the structure of our society that was the effect. If my life experiences have shown me anything, it’s that good parents, wealth and connections are lottery tickets, far more than they should be. I needed adoptive parents because the best way to get on in life is to have well-connected and wealthy parents. Family background is worth far, far more than it should be.
And, you know, it is so, so sad. I needed to belong – and to be owned by – parents in order for them to invest in me. The state was not going to invest in me because I wasn’t theirs. I have a few horror stories which demonstrate just this – a corporate parent actively quashing opportunity because it cost too much and the long-term investment could not be seen. I still remember when I was not worthy of investment – unworthy of a leaf from the Magic Money Tree.
As journalists go on about politicians’ backgrounds, I find myself asking: who am I? Where do I come from? Who are my people? But really it’s about: Who do I want to be? Who do I think we should be? What are my responsibilities? What are everyone’s vulnerabilities? What about the most vulnerable? Those for whom the state is all they have?
Every single time a politician speaks of equality of opportunity and says ‘it shouldn’t matter who a child’s parents are’ I think: what if they don’t have parents? What if YOU are their parent? What if YOU were the controlling mind behind the amorphous group of individuals and entities which make up a ‘corporate parent’?
I read somewhere that a person can leave care, but that care never leaves a person. In my experience this is true. No matter what else is happening in my life – no matter how privileged or glitzy – it really just comes down to this:
What if I had no one to turn to but the state?
What if the state was still my parent?